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Wayne’s World ~ Green option for at-risk schools

Posted on March 3, 2014 by Maple Creek

Who would have thought a local school that was once the center of learning  and community events could find a new lease on life as a legalized grow op?

The story in last week’s Advance Times surprised me and triggered synaptic responses in areas of my brain that I thought had died back in the 1970s.

I have to admit the concept of growing medicinal marijuana is creative and entrepreneurial in every aspect. It just seems hard to imagine such a facility at Richmound. It’s not that I object to the concept, but it took a little while to totally get my mind around it. My intellect tells me it makes economic sense since the venture will employ people and make use of a well-built government structure that has remained vacant since it closed in 2008.

Like other schools in the district that suffered declining enrolment, Richmound’s school was shut down despite vehement objections and arguments by community members. In my mind, I can still see the images of students and parents as they protested against plans to close the facility. It was a very emotional time as a school truly is one of the essential ingredients in a vibrant community.

Unfortunately, residents did not know there was another option at the time. In fact, no one thought outside the box until Rick Manz pitched the idea of purchasing the school and using it to grow high-grade pot that can be used to treat ailments that do not respond to conventional drug therapy.

Since funding is always an issue for small schools, it is too bad that no one thought of the idea sooner. As enrolment declined at Richmound and fell below the critical mass that was required to keep the school open, action could have been taken back then to convert part of the facility into a pot-production area. Classrooms could have been closed and sold or leased to Manz which would have generated income to offset the cost of keeping the school open. The concept begs the question: can a school receive funding from taxes and also be a revenue-generating  facility?

I ask readers to think carefully about that idea for a moment before formulating a decision. Any parent knows the amount of fundraising that students do every year for special projects. Students routinely sell chocolates, nut trays and other types of products to people in the community to generate cash for initiatives that do not receive any or adequate funding from education taxes. Perhaps transforming part of a school into a profit-producing private enterprise deserves closer examination, provided it will not have a detrimental impact on students.

Every time I drive past the schools at Liebenthal and Richmound I see what economics and our western lifestyle has done to decimate the rural population. It is no different at Golden Prairie and Piapot. Farms and ranches continue to get bigger and people are having fewer children and as a result rural schools become the victims of such trends.

However, legalized grow-ops or other private ventures that operate out of an unused part of a school could provide a reprieve for any educational establishment that is facing dark days ahead. I am thinking of communities such as Tompkins, Hazlet and any other location where there is an enterprising spirit that wants to stop grade discontinuance and school closures. Instead of spending cash to demolish a wing of Sidney Street School, perhaps it could be rented out, turned into apartments, a bar or casino.

Think of the excellent work experience programs that could be offered to students at a school if the building also housed a private business. Hands-on training and supervised work could be offered in all types of areas including production, maintenance and even office procedures such as accounting. I imagine the possible perks of employment at businesses such as micro breweries and grow ops could cause a lot of adults to compete with students for employment at school-based businesses.

Of course, marriages between an educational facility and business would have to be closely inspected by government to ensure exploitation of students never occurs. We certainly don’t want such bold initiatives to quietly be transformed into sweat-shop operations.

After learning about the plans to breathe life into Richmound’s school, I think I now understand why there is such a fuss over the sale of Piapot’s old school. It is obvious that transforming old buildings or unused portions of newer schools into legal grow-ops is the way of the future in southwest Saskatchewan.


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