Typically “family friendly” neighbourhoods are the ones losing children as housing prices rise in Richmond and Vancouver – and they may bear the brunt of closing schools, a CTV News analysis has found.

One Richmond school has filled just two in 10 seats, while another in Vancouver is just 28 per cent full, school records show, as the districts struggle to adapt to major demographic shifts driven by development patterns and skyrocketing house prices.

Schools in Vancouver’s east and south, and schools in Richmond’s west have seen enrolment plunge by as much as 40 per cent since 2007, while schools in Vancouver’s core and Surrey’s edges are bursting at the seams.

Wondering how under- or over-capacity your school is? Click through the map to find out.

In the end, more than 20 Metro Vancouver schools may be on the chopping block as cash-strapped districts find ways to cope with budget shortfalls and provincial directives to be more efficient.

There's no firm list of schools that will be closed. But CTV News has examined school district records to find out which parts of Vancouver and Richmond are losing students and have the most unused space.

Lower enrolment means less funding from the provincial government, which is asking for school boards to be 95 per cent full on average. Low enrolment schools may have a greater risk of closing to meet that goal.

“I don’t think any taxpayer is going to say that having a school that’s three-quarters empty and still running is a good idea in an urbanized district such as Vancouver,” Premier Christy Clark said at a press conference Wednesday.

It’s in Richmond where CTV News found the school that is the most under capacity: Sea Island Elementary in Richmond is only 19 per cent full. Four out of five seats are empty at that school, which serves a small community on Sea Island near Vancouver’s airport.

The lowest capacity school in the Vancouver school district is Seymour Elementary at just 28 per cent enrolment. It’s lost just under a third of its students since 2007.

MacDonald Elementary School sits at 32 per cent full, while six in 10 seats at MacCorkindale Elementary and Dr. A.R. Lord Elementary are empty.


Vancouver trends

Find out how enrolment has changed over time at Vancouver's elementary schools by clicking through the map.

In most of those schools enrolment has steadily dropped since 2007, the earliest records easily available from the Vancouver School Board.

All school districts are wrestling with funding challenges to balance the budget. Surrey faces a $4 million shortfall, while it would take some $24 million in cuts to balance the Vancouver School Board budget.

The province and the Vancouver School Board have been negotiating on what to do after the VSB rejected cuts to balance its $477 million operating budget.

Many of the schools losing students sit in what would have until recently been considered family-friendly neighbourhoods, marked by single-family homes with yards, green space and plenty of places to play.

But skyrocketing house prices have made it more difficult for young families to move to those neighbourhoods, said Vancouver School Board Chair Mike Lombardi. 

“Demographics have shifted considerably, and a lot of it is around affordability,” said Lombardi.

Another issue, according to former Vancouver city planner Brent Toderian, is that there is often only one type of housing in some elementary school catchments. 

That means empty-nesters can’t downsize within their neighbourhoods, and so “hang on with their fingernails” to a home that could welcome a new family, he said.

“One of the many reasons we want to introduce new housing types is to facilitate the return of children. If we don’t, we find the schools are under threat of closure,” he said.

Usually, it’s a city’s downtown that is bereft of children. But Vancouver’s downtown has seen a surge of children so significant that downtown schools are full, and nearby schools like Henry Hudson Elementary and Simon Fraser Elementary are absorbing the spillover. 

Elsie Roy Elementary in Yaletown is 10 per cent oversubscribed, while Henry Hudson Elementary is 19 per cent over capacity and Mount Pleasant’s Simon Fraser Elementary is 39 per cent over capacity, according to records.

“You provide the amenities like day care and schools and families with children come and stay in urban places. It’s ironic that some of our urban places are growing and some of our single family areas that are depopulating,” said Toderian.


Surrey trends



In Surrey, affordability and new townhouses are attracting families – where the problem is schools that are too full. 

Surrey’s Adams Road Elementary in North Cloverdale is a whopping 80 per cent over capacity, the district figures show.

And new schools such as Katzie Elementary in Clayton Heights are already oversubscribed by 20 per cent. 

In Surrey, the problem is not enough schools, not fast enough, said board chair Shane Wilson. He said the school board has asked the City of Surrey to slow down development, but says realistically the province must provide school funding that catches up to development.

“The reality is more school space will solve our problems and we can’t get that unless the provincial government comes to play ball with us,” Wilson said.

But Surrey, too, has capacity problems, among them some undersubscribed schools. East Kensington Elementary at only 43 per cent full, and Royal Heights Elementary is only about 46 per cent full.


Richmond trends

Find out how enrolment has changed over time at Richmond's elementary schools by clicking through the map.

In Richmond, Henry Anderson Elementary in the heart of the city is 20 per cent over capacity, and James Whiteside is 37 per cent over capacity. 

Meanwhile, Grauer Elementary and Talmey Elementary are only 55 per cent full.  

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