The Vancouver School Board is looking at closing up to 21 schools as it looks to shore up its operating budget, free up cash to pay for seismic upgrades, and get district capacity up to a provincially required minimum of 95%.
But so far, the board has been adamant that no individual schools have been singled out for the chopping block.
However, analysis of the current state of the city’s education facilities does provide some hints. Currently, there are 38 schools in Vancouver that are both below 85% capacity and not yet in the seismic upgrade pipeline. Eight of those schools are considered “high” risk in the event of a quake.
Click schools to see seismic risk
But is seismic risk and enrollment enough to determine the fate of the city’s schools?
No, says VSB Chair Mike Lombardi.
“Capacity’s one of seven criteria, but it is a significant one obviously.”
Lombardi says it, along with earthquake risk will be weighed along with a slew of other factors.
Those include whether there is a school nearby where students can go; nearby school’s capacities; whether out of catchment students can be accommodated at their home school; the condition of a particular school; and School Site considerations like facilities, proximity to major roads, or whether they could be used for something else.
High 1: Most vulnerable structure; at highest risk of widespread damage or structural failure; not reparable after event. Structural and non-structural seismic upgrades required.
High 2: Vulnerable structure; at high risk of widespread damage or structural failure; likely not reparable after event. Structural and non-structural seismic upgrades required.
High 3: Isolated failure to building elements such as walls are expected; building likely not reparable after event. Structural and non-structural seismic upgrades required.
He says some schools enrollment is artificially high because of district wide programs held there like French Immersion or Montessori, and that 30% of kids are currently attending schools outside their catchment areas.
“All of a sudden if you decide to move a program in a school it would dramatically change the population of that school.”
Adding to the complexity, Lombardi says the issue isn’t whether any particular school is at 95% capacity. Instead, it’s a matter of getting the entire district up to that number.
“Half of them are over that and half of them are under that. So it’s not school by school. You can’t say this schools 95%, it’s safe, or this schools’s 45%, it’s up for grabs.”
Lombardi says when the decisions are made they will also have to be done with an eye to future demographic trends. Those include factors like new developments at Jericho or the Hastings-Sunrise corridor, along with the wider demographic shift east as young families look for more affordable housing.
The draft long range facilities plan will go to the Board next week, and in June, the Superintendent of Schools will provide an initial list of schools that could face potential closure.
Meanwhile, the Board remains locked in a standoff with the provincial government over a $24-million dollar operating budget shortfall, and possible cuts to programs and teaching positions to make up the gap.