VSB green-lights plan that could lead to 13 school closures
The Vancouver School Board has approved a plan that could see closures of 13 schools in an attempt to secure long-awaited seismic upgrades for dozens of others.
On Monday, trustees unanimously voted to pass the motion, which may lead to 12 elementary schools and one secondary school being shut down – as well as the repurposing of eight others – over the next 14 years.
Mike Lombardi, chairperson of the Vancouver School Board, said that so far no schools have been slated for closure.
“The school board has not made any decisions about school closures and no schools have been identified,” said Lombardi. “The earliest any schools could close in Vancouver with our policies is June 2017, but it would be carefully done in accordance with community consultation.”
Under a requirement set by B.C.’s Education Ministry, provincial funding for seismic upgrades hinges on Vancouver schools reaching 95 per cent enrolment capacity – a difficult task considering the skyrocketing cost of living in Vancouver.
Vancouver schools currently have an enrolment of 50,387 and a capacity of 59,585, according to the VSB. The board estimates enrolment will grow by 550 students, up to 50,937, by 2030, and that it can decrease its capacity to 53,618.
With housing prices at an all-time high, enrolment at Vancouver schools is steadily dropping. Meanwhile other major cities such as Surrey are buckling under an influx of students.
“Fewer families are moving in with school-aged kids,” said Lombardi. “And we know that compared to Surrey and the other suburbs the average family has one child, whereas the rest of Metro Vancouver has 1.1.”
Monday’s decision wasn’t the outcome many parents were hoping for, but they’re not necessarily blaming the school board.
“The board is being put in a completely untenable position: they've been asked to weigh up the safety of children against what is educationally advisable in terms of designing facilities for education needs,” said Maggie Milne Martins of the Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education. “They don’t have a choice, they need to agree with this.”
There are currently 69 schools in Vancouver that are considered at high-risk of sustaining damage in an earthquake.
“We want to get those schools upgraded and safe for kids,” said Lombardi. “We want our schools to be vibrant, lively places where our kids focus and thrive on learning.
Yet parents like Jennifer Stewart of Families Against Cuts to Education are concerned the looming closures may jeopardize this learning.
“[The decision] would simply be to meet the essential blackmail demands from the provincial government,” Stewart said. “This is setting the blueprint for education in this city for the next 50 to 100 years.”
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Sarah MacDonald