Topley considers new use for vacant school

Residents are looking into whether Topley Elementary could be converted into a seniors home.

Residents are looking into whether Topley Elementary could be converted into a seniors home.

That idea topped a list of possible uses for the empty school after 30 people came to a public tour and brainstorming session on April 13.

“In the end, two suggestions came forward that everyone thought were pretty good ideas,” said Jerry Botti, a Topley resident and manager of Community Futures Nadina.

“Both centred around turning the facility into an assisted care facility like The Pines in Burns Lake, or the assisted living facility in Houston.”

The Pines is a 36-bed seniors home with round-the-clock nursing care just across from the Burns Lake hospital. Houston’s Cottonwood Manor houses  21 apartments and offers independent seniors services such as  meals and housekeeping.

Botti said the  Cottonwood  model is likely the best option for Topley, adding that several people at the meeting said there is a lack of such seniors care in both Burns Lake and Houston.

Botti said that after a quick tour, a local contractor suggested  the building seems to be a good candidate for residential use.

“Nobody took out any blueprints or anything like that, but the estimate was that they might be able to make 22 bedrooms,” he said.

But a seniors home wasn’t  the only option to come forward—a high-speed internet line at the school led some to suggest  making it into an adult education centre and a provider of  community WiFi or broadband internet.

Rob Newell, Houston rural director and a lead organizer of the meeting, said there were also several people  who said the vacant school should be scrapped.

“It was quite negative to start with, I have to admit,” he said.

Closed in 2010 due to low enrolment, Topley Elementary will likely be demolished if no one takes an interest in it, he added. Maintaining the school and grounds in their current state costs the school district an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 a year.

Despite rumours to the contrary, Newell said School District 91 has firm plans to do demolish the school, adding that school officials have been “really helpful,” and are open to the idea that the empty school might be converted.

Botti said the next step for the school plan is to prepare a business case for seniors care that can be presented to  Northern Health and private seniors care companies.

Organizers will also ask local governments about possible funding, he said, noting that a similar project was undertaken in Fraser Fort George.