Housing crisis

Vancouver school at risk of closing to make room amid housing crisis

Michael Hooper outside the Queen Elizabeth Annex in Vancouver on April 15.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

Parents on Vancouver’s west side oppose the possible closure of a small school in Dunbar, saying the school board’s plan to get rid of the precious land fails to take into account the massive population growth expected as well as several new residential towers.

Michael Hooper, a parent from the Queen Elizabeth Annex who volunteers with the Parent Advisory Council, is frustrated with the plan and said it reflects the council’s lack of long-term vision.

“The VSB is totally unique. I have never heard of anyone thinking that they would like to take their rapidly appreciating land and turn it into rapidly depreciating cash. The only reason they do it… is because the Department of Education refuses to fund schools in Vancouver unless they do, said Hooper, who is also a professor of planning at the University. of British Columbia.

Ken Su, treasurer of the parent advisory board, said it was easy for the board to suggest that QEA, which currently serves 71 French immersion students from kindergarten to grade 3 and is at about 73% capacity , is an insufficient use of Resources. But he said that wasn’t necessarily the real reason for the shutdown. “What you see here is the province effectively holding the VSB hostage, you know, by not providing funding for other areas,” Su said.

The VSB faces demographic and legal pressures to accommodate students in other areas of the city, with enrollment declining at some schools against an overflow in more recently developed areas. But in the past, the provincial government has said it won’t help until the commission cuts costs. To complicate matters, a civil action has been brought by the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique, the French-language public school board.

Parents argue that developments, with an emphasis on more affordable housing, planned for the West Side – including Senakw in False Creek, Jericho Lands in West Point Grey, the Broadway Plan and various housing projects at UBC – will lead to an increase in school-aged children.

The council does not see this influx as a reason to keep QEA open, Deputy Superintendent David Nelson said. “We have other options and opportunities to deal with any West Side enrollment growth without this site.”

Mr. Hooper is frustrated with the VSB’s long-term planning for the Queen Elizabeth Annex.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

As the board and the ministry debate, students and parents are eager to learn about the future of their school. This is the fourth time since 2008 that QEA, which is located just east of Pacific Spirit Regional Park, has faced closure.

In January, the school board voted to submit the plan to a public comment period. The district says the closure would save the district up to $300,000 a year in operating costs. The school, which was built in 1964, is a candidate for closure because it has a high seismic rating and an estimated deferred maintenance cost of $2.6 million.

School board president Janet Fraser said in a statement to The Globe and Mail that she encourages “all Vancouver families and the general public to participate in engagement activities as it will help inform the board’s decision.” .

Another factor in closing the appendix is ​​the lawsuit of the CSF, which serves children of French-speaking or French-educated background under the minority language right guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (French immersion, on the other hand, is provided by English-speaking boards.)

In 2019, then Education Minister Rob Fleming promised to fund a new school in the Olympic Village if the Vancouver School Board transferred the QEA to the CSF. The CSF filed the civil lawsuit in 2020, against the province, the Department of Education and the Vancouver School Board, referring in part to the board’s decision not to close QEA. The council did not proceed with the closure at the time as it did not have a long-term facilities plan, which sets out the site’s priorities in the future, in place, but approved such a plan in 2021 .

The province has struggled to provide new schools for the CSF since the Supreme Court of Canada ordered British Columbia in 2017 to find more space for French-language schools.

The CSF said it could not provide further details as discussions were still ongoing with the VSB.

Mr. Nelson said that while it is not the school board’s job to meet the needs of the CSF, the board has unnecessary school sites. He said the closure of QEA could allow the VSB to sell or lease the site to the CSF, which would provide funding to the VSB. More generally, closing some schools can be beneficial for the VSB, Nelson said, as it reduces the board’s overall capacity, putting it in a better position to push for new schools or additions where needed. requires.

The school board recently sold land under the Lord Roberts School Annex in West Vancouver to BC Hydro for an underground substation in 2018. And last year the school board voted to declare a part of the grounds of Sir Sandford Fleming Elementary School as surplus and permitted. the start of the land alienation process.

In the meantime, QEA’s parents appreciate his small stature, but believe growing up is an option. “There’s tremendous value for a small school,” Hooper said. “There’s a kind of camaraderie and warmth there… I think most people would actually wish QEA would grow and even grow dramatically.”

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