School board puts school on the market

J.W. Sexsmith elementary open house drew mixed opinions

The Vancouver School Board posted a request for proposals (RFP) last week to find a compatible group or organization to lease J.W. Sexsmith elementary school.

A replacement school is being built on the sprawling site at 7455 Ontario St. Construction is expected to be finished on the new school in the summer of 2013 and the old 1913 heritage building will no longer be needed. The original small woodframed school building on the property is also part of the RFP. The two buildings are located on the eastern portion of the site, which sits between Ontario and Columbia streets and Langara golf course and West 59th Avenue. The new school is positioned closer to Columbia.

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The school district is seeking proposals regarding the heritage buildings for purposes including civic or institutional use such as a library, community centre, recreation or health centre; a community use such as a day care, preschool or seniors centre; an arts facility; or educational use such as a music academy, arts school, dance academy or for postsecondary education. "The district is not currently seeking proposals from parties interested in the buildings for an independent K-12 school or residential/commercial uses," according to the RFP.

Close to 40 people attended an open house at Sexsmith in January aimed at getting feedback about future uses for the historic buildings-28 of those who attended completed questionnaires.

Opinion at the open house about whether the VSB should retain or demolish the main building was mixed. Many valued its heritage characteristics and wanted to see is saved, while others understood the heritage value of the school but preferred it be knocked down to create additional outdoor space for the replacement school. The feedback also revealed the neighbourhood was interested in saving the wood-framed 1912 building. "People tend to ascribe more value to this building as it is the original school building and it does not take up much of the site," the staff summary of the meeting noted.

Open house participants favoured civic, community or educational use if Sexsmith is leased, while there was "much less support" for residential or commercial use for the buildings.

Three private schools have contacted the VSB enquiring about Sexsmith, but that's not an option being considered in the RFP.

"The advice we've had to date is it would be very difficult to operate an independent school on the same site as an operating public school," board chair Patti Bacchus told the Courier. "There are issues of traffic, issues of playfield space and there's the competition factor as well-that were all drawing from the same pool of students."

Whether a community or arts group could afford to update and lease the building is uncertain. The RFP deadline is June 28.

noconnor@vancourier.com Twitter: @Naoibh

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