Vancouver School Board staff say an elementary school should be built in Coal Harbour.
An elementary school that will accommodate 510 children is projected to open September 2015 near International Village at Abbott Street and Expo Boulevard, but Jim Meschino, the board’s director of facilities, says additional schools will be needed in the downtown peninsula.
Meschino noted a site for a school in Coal Harbour predates the ìmore centralî International Village site, but the area north of West Georgia Street hasn’t drawn many children. Coal Harbour may be needed now to accommodate kids from the West End.
ìWe’ve always seen a lot of transience, people moving there, starting out, having kids and going to the suburbs,î he said. ìWe’re seeing this resurgence of downtown livingÖ We have to try and keep up with it and make sure that there’s enough schools down in the West End.î
Meschino updated the board’s planning and facilities committee March 6 about his Jan. 24 meeting with the city to discuss school capacity downtown west of Main Street. Meschino updated the committee publicly in an effort to let affected parents know the board is looking ahead.
Even though four classrooms for 100 additional students opened at Elsie Roy in Yaletown last September, 39 families were turned away for lack of space, Meschino said. He reports all of the public schools west of Main Street are operating at full capacity.
ìWith the city’s current planning initiatives for Northeast False Creek, West End, Granville loops and spot rezoning in the downtown area, there will be significant enrolment pressures in the foreseeable future,î a recent letter from Meschino to the city states.
An elementary school in the former Olympic Village on False Creek is already in the board’s capital plan, whereas a small school, or annex, in Coal Harbour is not. Meschino says that may need to be changed.
ìOne variable to consider is the fact that Georgia Street is a major traffic barrier for students coming from neighbourhoods to the south,î his letter to the city notes.
The Coal Harbour site is also small and part of a development that is meant to include non-market housing, childcare and community centre components, so it would require coordination and money from B.C. Housing, the city and the Ministry of Education.
Based on forecasts to 2021, the board believes that in addition to International Village and Coal Harbour, another elementary school will be needed.
In the meantime, the board proposes to shrink capacity at Strathcona elementary, which could accommodate more students. Downtown parents choose to send their children to schools across False Creek, in Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant, rather than Strathcona, Meschino said.
The board is recommending to the province that only three of four buildings at Strathcona be seismically upgraded. As a result, the school’s capacity would shrink from 890 students to 510. Strathcona has served as the home school for the future International Village catchment. Once the International Village school is completed, Strathcona would serve residents east of Main Street.
Meschino said city staff believe they will be able to find space for another elementary school and a secondary school downtown through new developments.
King George secondary in the West End is at capacity and nearly half of secondary students who live downtown and attend public school do so outside of downtown.
King George could be expanded when it’s seismically upgraded to accommodate the current youth population, but it couldn’t accommodate projected future demand.