Saturday, May 18, 2024
May 18, 2024

Mayne Island celebrates teacherage opening

A community effort to provide housing for teachers on Mayne Island is coming to fruition this week — and may be inspiring officials within the Gulf Islands School District (SD64) to get into the “teacherage” business on Salt Spring.   

Jackie Peterson, chair of Mayne Island School’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC), said educator Marcus Down — who became the vice-principal of Mayne Island School at the beginning of the calendar year — is moving in with family members this week as the first tenants of the Mayne Island Teacherage, marking the culmination of a months-long project that might have involved most of the island’s 1,300 residents. 

“The result is going to be a fully staffed school and all of our teachers living on Mayne Island for, I think, the first time ever,” said Peterson.  

About 30 students attend the K-7 Mayne Island School, which has faced difficulty in recent years finding — and keeping — staff. Peterson described losing educators throughout the academic year, as many faced commuting from Salt Spring Island and 12- and 14-hour days getting back and forth.  

“It’s not a super appealing job from that perspective,” said Peterson, “and that’s where the majority of our teacher pool came from.” 

The search for stable accommodation led the PAC to look at renovating an existing structure on school property. The two-bedroom, farmhouse-style home sits on SD64 land; in the 1970s, the building had been part of the provincial teacherage program for rural communities, but fell into disrepair. For the past 40 years or so, Peterson said, it had been used alternately as a workshop and storage area — nicknamed “the Ark” by students and staff, because it reportedly held two of everything. 

“It was an old house that had been moved here from somewhere else. But the bones were there,” said Peterson. “The PAC took it upon ourselves, and came to an agreement with the school district to allow us to renovate this building into livable condition.” 

Since August, it seems like most of Mayne Island has been working on the teacherage. A local heat pump contractor was among the first to offer support — a new heating system, complete with a water heater, now warms the building. A local electrician donated electrical work — his wife, Peterson said, was a career educator. 

A donated gas stove was traded with the island’s firefighters for their electric one; someone else donated a nearly new fridge. There were donated tiles for the kitchen backsplash; another islander in mid-renovation of their own place brought the light fixtures, which Peterson said had a “nice schoolhouse vibe” that coordinated with the old blackboard they kept as a design element.  

A friend donated an aluminum and glass railing that had been sitting in her yard for 10 years; that cleaned up beautifully, and now surrounds a surprisingly big deck.  Someone else donated a kitchen countertop — that didn’t fit the kitchen, but became a countertop in the bathroom and laundry.  

Dozens of volunteers flowed in and out of the building. Brian and Colleen Dearden at Mayne’s Home Hardware were “amazing” partners for the PAC, according to Peterson; indeed, the list of companies, organizations and individuals who put in time, donated supplies and sent money is long. Names seem to be continually added at 

Today, with donations approaching $80,000 — through a huge variety of fundraisers and a grant-in-aid from the Capital Regional District — the house is being rented at below market rate, with proceeds headed into a fund to keep up the teacherage going forward. School board trustee Deborah Luporini told the SD64 Board of Education last Wednesday that Mayne Islanders deserved praise for solving a seemingly insurmountable problem, creating a dedicated residence on-island specifically for educators. 

“The community’s really pulled together to support this,” said Luporini. “It’s been a fabulous project.” 

Fellow trustee Rob Pingle agreed, pointing to a recent announcement about “BC Builds” — a provincial initiative to leverage government, community and non-profit-owned properties with millions of dollars in low-cost financing to create middle-income housing. It all suggested to him there might be a path toward doing something similar on another piece of underutilized district-owned land: the recently-shuttered Phoenix School site on Drake Road. 

“As we consider future uses of the Phoenix property, this may be a timely opportunity,” said Pingle, “since we have gone down the path of teacherages, to provide a teacherage on Salt Spring Island.” 

Peterson said on Mayne, the PAC and the broader community wanted to show how people can come together to solve “seemingly massive” problems with simple solutions — if they work together. 

“We said, ‘let’s solve this for ourselves,’” said Peterson. “Let’s do what we can as a small community to make this change that hopefully will benefit the Mayne Island School and the kids there for years to come.” 

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