Funds floated for planning new Whistler elementary school By Andy Stonehouse Howe Sound school district officials welcomed news last week that the education ministry will provide funds to help plan for a new elementary school in Whistler — even though the project is far from the top priority when it comes to educational needs in the area. On July 2, education minister Paul Ramsey announced that the ministry would contribute $132,000 to aid in planning for the new Whistler elementary, which is estimated to cost $3.9 million. Ramsey's announcement came as part of the government's recent offerings to help cut sizes in classes for students in kindergarten and Grades 1 to 3, an issue which is part of the new legislated province-wide teachers' contract. The new money will be used to help in the design of a new elementary school slated for Spring Creek, a new neighbourhood and housing development being planned by Intrawest for lands south of Millar's Pond in Whistler. Intrawest will donate a 5.5 acre parcel for the school site. While the new planning money is a welcome gift to the local school district, developing the new elementary school is still a lower priority for area school officials than a much-needed addition to Brackendale Junior Secondary School or a complete replacement to the decaying Signal Hill elementary in Pemberton. In May, district officials travelled to Victoria to meet with ministry bureaucrats and make their case for work at the Brackendale and Pemberton schools, but were told that limited funding across the province meant the projects would not proceed. Money was, however, provided to replace roofs at a number of schools throughout the district. Nancy Edwards, secretary-treasurer for the school district, said the new money will go directly into planning the new Whistler elementary, while negotiations continue in designing the larger subdivision which will house the new school. "This new money is partial planning funds for the new school in Whistler, in the hope that Intrawest will continue its own planning work in the area," she said. "The municipality is working on our behalf to secure that site." Whistler planner Kim Needham said the education ministry money will help in making sure that the school project comes to life. "This gives us some level of assurance that things will continue on," she said. "We have our own planning issues, and we're working to plan out the site." Even with the new cash, Needham said she does not expect the project to appear much more speedily, which may dampen the hopes of parents currently sending children to the crowded Myrtle Philip elementary. "We're probably looking at the summer of 2000 before we break ground out there. The project is still in the midst of rezoning, and we still haven't nailed down a site." Whistler's new elementary has been planned as a central component of the Spring Creek development, Intrawest's ambitious neighbourhood project announced in April. The entire Spring Creek subdivision is to include a day care facility, a small commercial development and employee housing, with single family houses, townhomes and walk-up apartment buildings.