J.W. Sexsmith elementary held an open house last week to collect feedback about future uses for the historic building at West 59th and Ontario near the Langara golf course.
A new school is being built on the sprawling property at 7455 Ontario St. It should be ready by the spring of 2013.
The site is large enough so the old earthquake-vulnerable school, which dates back to 1913, doesn’t have to be knocked down. The Vancouver School Board will be issuing a request for proposals next month to find a compatible group or organization willing to lease the building, upgrade it and move in. The original small wood-framed schoolhouse, which sits in front of the 1913 building facing Ontario Street, was built in 1912. It’s being kept in its current location and will be part of the RFP.
“Our preferred use would be for the site to be utilized by a civic or community agency such as a library, community centre, recreational or health-related agency, arts facility or non-profit oriented organization [such as] a daycare, preschool or senior’s centre,” explained VSB spokesman Kurt Heinrich.
A 2007 study indicated it would cost $13.2 million for a seismic upgrade that would retain the exterior character of the heritage building.
But there’s no guarantee that the RFP will generate responses.
Board chair Patti Bacchus said in an email to the Courier: “We will go through the process of trying to find an appropriate user for the building but if there is no one interested in upgrading and using the building and taking on its operating costs, the board will have to consider options such as “mothballing” or demolition. Neither is very appealing. I think these are important discussions to have with the Sexsmith community before we could make those decisions.”
Heritage Vancouver named Sexsmith—and two other Vancouver schools—as one of the most threatened buildings in the city on its 2011 top 10 endangered sites list.
A few years ago, the district tried to save part of the old Dickens school on the city’s East Side by leasing it out, but the site was too small to accommodate the needs of the leasee and a playfield area for students. The old building was demolished when the new school was completed.
The new two-storey Sexsmith school, meanwhile, is expected to house more than 400 students in 17 classrooms, an early learning room for preschool and strong start programs, a music room, which is now in a portable, a multi-purpose room that will double as a lunch room, space for community groups and a gymnasium.
Geothermal heating is being installed, while outdoor space will be reduced from three fields to one, said Sexsmith principal Jacquie Hall.
Neighbourhood demographics are changing along with the school, which is currently under-enrolled. The enrolment drop meant the school lost its vice-principal position.
“I’ve been here for about five years and it’s been 17 divisions [classrooms] with about 410 kids. This year we’re down to 360 with 15 divisions,” Hall said, adding that when she started at the school it was 80 per cent ESL and now it’s 50 per cent.
She suspects families living in basement suites or in cheaper accommodation may have moved when homes were torn down and replaced with new construction with higher rents.
Those empty seats may be filled once the Marine Gateway development at the foot of Cambie and Marine Drive is completed. Hall said developers predict as many as 400 families will move in.