Sea to Sky School District trustees dealt Squamish Valley Music Festival (SVMF) organizers a minor setback this week, rejecting the festival's application to use the Howe Sound Secondary School (HSSS) football field for camping during the 2014 festival.
Trustees on Wednesday (Feb. 12) cited concerns about the potential for damage to the field if the weather was rainy before or during the August festival in voting unanimously to reject the application. SVMF officials had already secured the board's OK for the use of Squamish Elementary and Mamquam Elementary fields for camping.
A few years ago, though, the HSSS field was upgraded to the tune of some $600,000, giving it a sandy base and a surface that's considered ideal for football and other school programs. Trustees said they didn't want to risk having the field damaged if the weather doesn't co-operate.
“I can recall at least two recent Augusts where we had significant rainfall,” board chair Rick Price said.
“Mr. [district facilities manager Rick] Hume is convinced that if that happens, we would not be able to have that field ready in time for football. I would not like us to make a decision that puts that in jeopardy.”
Paul Runnals, SVMF executive producer, on Thursday (Feb. 13) said that while organizers had hoped to put between 700 and 750 campsites on the field, they can still make a go of things this year with around 4,500 sites — enough space for approximately 18,000 festival patrons.
Runnals said he had heard before the meeting that the board was leaning toward rejecting the application, but had hoped to convince the trustees otherwise.
“I was hoping that we might be able to swing them around, but I also understand where they're coming from. I can't sit there and assure them it's not going to rain. So it's a fair decision,” he said.
At Wednesday's meeting, Runnals made another plea to the board, asking trustees to lift the district's policy of not allowing alcohol on school grounds for the 2014 festival. If that's done, each adult camper would be allowed to bring up to one 12-can case of beer or one box of wine — no glass bottles allowed, for safety reasons — to his or her site at check-in time, he told the board.
The exemption would apply only to the approximately 1,000 campsites planned on the Squamish Elementary (SES) field, as the field at Mamquam Elementary is intended as the camping site for families and festival staff. SVMF officials are still awaiting temporary use permits from the District of Squamish on the two school fields, and for a larger site in the Squamish Business Park.
In exchange for that right to allow alcohol at the SES field, SVMF organizers are offering to donate $10,000 to the district for whatever purpose the trustees deem appropriate, Runnals said.
If the policy is not lifted, camping on the SES field “is probably not going to be viable,” he told the board.
“I don't think it's going to be very attractive as a facility if people aren't allowed to bring beer to the campsites. It's a music festival, after all,” Runnals told The Chief.
“If we're unsuccessful in getting the exemption, then we will have to make a decision if we want to try to take that to market. If we do try to take it to market, then we could well wind up having people lob cases [of alcohol] over the fences and what have you,” he said, adding that that's not an ideal situation.
Runnals said that while he completely understood the HSSS field decision, he doesn't see why the trustees would turn down SVMF's latest application.
“It's not a school event… I don't see personally that there's an argument to be made that in any way, shape or form, the students' interest is at risk,” he said, adding that he's hoping for a decision on the application next month.