B.C.’s Agriculture Land Commission (ALC) has nixed a plan to develop an international school in Powell River that would have served up to 400 Chinese students and generate an estimated $10 million annually in revenue.
The Sino Bright campus was a key part of a long-range development plan for the coastal community that has struggled since the town’s largest employer, Catalyst Paper Corp., cut back its pulp mill operations some years ago.
In a November ruling, the ALC denied an application to exempt 30 acres of agricultural land for the $30 million Sino Bright school.
Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa reacted to the decision with shock.
“I read the ruling three times,” he said, “You read it and just shake your head.”
Formosa said that the panel concluded the land should be preserved for agriculture, “even though the land is not that good for farming, even though it would be extremely expensive to prepare it to be farmed and even though the amount of farming you’d actually be able to do with it is quite limited.”
“We’re extremely disappointed in the decision,” said Powell River School District (PRSC) superintendent Jay Yule.
“Our concern is that there might be other options for [Sino Bright] outside of Powell River,” said Yule. “There was a real feeling that this would go through.”
The campus was to be built adjacent to the Brooks secondary school.
Councillor Jim Palm, who works as a counseller at Brooks, said the decision will hit the school hard if Sino Bright decides to look elsewhere. Brooks currently has about 100 Sino Bright students enrolled in its international education program.
These are students who are enrolled in the B.C. offshore school program: Chinese students studying B.C. curriculum in the People’s Republic of China. Part of the requirement for graduation is to spend a semester at school in B.C. The plan was to create a campus that would bring 400 students to Powell River.
Over the past decade, enrolment in Powell River’s public school system has plunged. Palm said the graduating class of 2006 had 300 students in it. The class of 2016 had 180.
Yule has contacted Sino Bright owners Yufang Sun and Quan Ouyang in China to let them know that PRSC has not given up yet.
“Just because it was a no there, doesn’t mean that it’s a no,” said Formosa.
Scott Randolph, manager of Powell River Economic Development, said there have been discussions with Sino Bright in finding another Powell River site for its campus.
“I am confident,” Randolph said, “We hope to have a decision by February.”