With files form Shelby Thom and Simon Little
The Vancouver school board has unanimously approved a seismic upgrading plan that could lead to the closure of up to 13 schools.
As a part of the Long Range Facilities Plan, which must be presented to the province by the end of the month, a further eight could be repurposed to house students while upgrades are underway.
The plan recommends closing 11-12 elementary schools, along with one high school – though it stops short of naming which schools could face the axe.
Board chair Mike Lombardi downplayed the significance of today’s vote.
“The school board has not made any decisions about school closures, no schools have been identified, and we have a very significant policy in Vancouver where there is a yearlong process before any school would close. The earliest a school could close in Vancouver without our policies is June 2017.”
The report does, however, list schools that are to be prioritized for seismic upgrading:
- Cavell Elementary
- Wolfe Elementary
- Prince of Wales Secondary
- Tennyson Elementary
- Maple Grove Elementary
- Weir Elementary
- Jamieson Elementary
- Thompson Secondary
- Bayview Elementary
- Point Grey Secondary
- Hamber Secondary
- Killarney Secondary
- Lloyd George Elementary
- Kingsford-Smith Elementary
The plan lists a further 11 schools to be assessed for project viability:
- Waverley Elementary
- Grenfell Elementary
- Begbie Elementary
- Mackenzie Elementary
- John Oliver Secondary
- Renfrew Elementary
- Templeton Secondary
- Carleton Elementary
- Livingstone Elementary
- Hudson Elementary
- False Creek Elementary
The plan sets a target of 2030 for the changes, including the upgrading work.
Trustees say they felt like they had no choice but to approve the plan, which includes recommendations to close some schools, downsize others, and boost enrollment in a bid to secure provincial funding for seismic upgrades.
The move is the result of ongoing tension between the province and the school board over doling out that money.
An agreement signed between the two bodies in 2014 ties the upgrades to a requirement that the VSB get enrollment up to 95% capacity across the district. It currently sits around 85%.
Jennifer Stewart with families against cuts to education says the education ministry’s 95% capacity ultimatum for seismic funding unfairly puts kids in the middle.
“Essentially, our children’s safety is being held hostage until the board moves in the direction that the Ministry of Education wants it to, for no educational rationale. Simply because the ministry wants cuts.”
Lombardi, too, expressed unease with the figure.
“What goes on in schools right now is more than just enrolling classrooms. We have music rooms, we have art rooms, we have computer rooms, we have adult educations students. And those are not counted int he ministry’s calculations. So I think people are expressing the frustration that there’s a 95% figure that has been put out there by the minister.”
With declining enrollment, talk of closing some Vancouver schools has persisted for years.
Most recently, a provincially ordered 2015 audit by Ernst and Young recommended the board put 19 underutilized schools on the chopping block to shore up its budget.