This story has been revised since first published.
The Vancouver School Board is meeting tonight to decide the fate of a century-old yellow schoolhouse currently slated for demolition sometime this month.
The small arts and crafts-style building sits on the grounds of General Gordon elementary school in Kitsilano, near Broadway and Macdonald. The elementary school was demolished in January 2015 to make way for a new facility as part of district-wide seismic upgrading, and the schoolhouse, which is not listed on the heritage registry, was to follow suit this month.
A group of residents wants the schoolhouse saved, citing its heritage value and the need for more community and childcare space in the city.
John Hughes of the West Kitsilano Residents’ Association (WKRA) said the schoolhouse and other aging VSB facilities represent Vancouver’s history and should be protected.
“I think something the City of Vancouver is probably going to have to come to terms with is that the Vancouver School Board is probably the custodian of the largest collection of heritage architecture in the city,” said Hughes. “The public should be aware of the degree to which these things are actually not being preserved.”
“It’s so important to have safe, good educational facilities for our kids, but they’re also striking and significantly important pieces of heritage architecture,” Hughes added. “These are big civic buildings with history and heritage and [are] in many ways a part of the definition of a neighbourhood.”
Jean Gordon, also of WKRA, said the group is exploring ways to fund saving the building, including applying to various levels of government for heritage, cultural and arts grants. She said they have also heard from community groups interested in getting involved, but they need the school board to commit to saving the building first.
“There’s been tremendous contributions from resources in the community who are either past or future General Gordon parents, [including] professional landscaping, engineering and architectural consulting, and we hope that the school board will work with the school community and also the greater community who are also invested in the site,” said Gordon, adding that the schoolhouse is a much needed resource in the rapidly densifying neighbourhood.
“Our history has value and we want to communicate that down through the generations. And this is a very, very small building that nevertheless is a valuable, useful landmark,” said Gordon. “It has been a fully and happily tenanted building for many years, right up until last week, so it’s not as if this is some derelict building.”
Until recently, the schoolhouse was home to Ivy Montessori preschool. The replacement elementary school currently under construction will include 60 licensed before and after school spaces and an additional 20 spaces for the Montessori.
VSB staff are presenting three options for the schoolhouse: demolition, retention on-site and relocation off-site.
Relocation off-site comes with significant costs due to the complexity of the move and complications caused by the presence of asbestos and lead paint. Moving the building off-site would require cutting the structure into three parts and removing up to 20 mature trees from the property.
VSB staff estimates retaining the building on-site would cost between $100,000 and $200,000 in order to provide BC Hydro, fire alarm, security, water and sewage services for the schoolhouse, plus $8,600 annually in operating, maintenance and custodial costs.
According to a VSB staff report to be presented to the board tonight, the City of Vancouver said it would not contribute funds to keep the building for childcare use. The city indicated it would be cost-prohibitive due to the price tag of bringing the building up to code and its limited capacity. Also, if the building were to be used for childcare, plans for the site would need to be amended to include a dedicated outdoor play area, more parking and a drop-off/loading area, putting additional strain on the project’s budget and the already limited space of the site.