Class Notes: Vancouver French school next in line for earthquake proofing

Elementary school-aged students at Fairviews LEcole Bilingue want their new school to feature nicer washrooms and a pretty cafeteria.

Thats what Deborah Stern Silver, a member of the schools parent seismic committee, told those present at the signing of an agreement between the Ministry of Education and Vancouver School Board Jan. 29 to replace the century-old clay brick school on West 14th Avenue between Alder and Spruce streets.

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Margaret McDiarmid, Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Fairview, said French-speaking students told her they wanted a larger gymnasium and washrooms on every floor.

The province will provide $12 million to replace the seismically unsafe school. It will spend another $3.2 million on 25 portables to house a library, classrooms, washrooms and office area on the South Hill Education Centre property on Fraser Street at East 44th Avenue. French immersion students from Fairview will study there during construction.

And then we have another 42 seismic projects coming in behind so there will be plenty to pick from to occupy the swing space after LEcole comes back to its building, said Maureen Cowin, facility planner for the school board.

Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus noted students first drew attention to the need to seismically upgrade schools and she thanked the province for making safe schools a priority in difficult economic times.

Cowin said students will be bused to South Hill. She said the catchment area for the French immersion school is large so many of the students live nearby.

LEcole Bilingue accommodates 485 kindergarten to Grade 7 students. That number wont change with a new school because Bacchus said the district is meeting the demand for education in French.

Bacchus said the waiting lists for French immersion are usually whittled to zero by September, but said parents might not get their child into their first choice of schools.

LEcole Bilingue is one of three French immersion-only schools in Vancouver. In addition to teachers, nearly all staff members speak French. Fifteen other schools offer French immersion alongside regular classes.

Bacchus said its difficult to create more French immersion classes. The school board would want to start with an additional kindergarten class and grow by a grade a year, but doing so would demand additional classroom space. She said the school board competes with districts across the country to find qualified, particularly substitute, teachers to provide instruction in French.

The new LEcole Bilingue will include a neighbourhood learning centre with a musical/choral room, performance space and a child-care facility.

Construction on the new school should start this fall. Cowin expects LEcole Bilingue students will move to South Hill in spring 2014. The new school is expected to open in September 2015.

The Khalsa School, which has taught children the Sikh way of life at South Hill since the early 1990s, will have to vacate the property to make way for the new portables.

Good news for Gladstone

Gladstone secondary has won $50,000 to help build a 30-person greenhouse for the schools science and foods programs from Aviva Community Fund.

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