Vancouver councillor renews calls for new Olympic Village elementary school

Sep 27 2019, 3:36 pm

Nearly 15 years after the Southeast False Creek (SEFC) Plan was first enacted, a Vancouver city councillor is renewing calls for one major aspect of the plan to be fulfilled — the construction of a new elementary school that serves the community.

Councillor Lisa Dominato’s motion, to be deliberated by city council next week, calls for a greater urgency for provincial funding to construct the Olympic Village elementary school and daycare, which is slated in the master plan for the large grassy site at Hinge Park — on the parcel north of the playground, west of Columbia Street, and south of Athletes Way.

Under the SEFC Plan, the school should be built by 2020 to serve the buildout of the community, reaching up to 16,000 people, with the 2009-built original Olympic Village core accounting for about a quarter of the new district’s population.

But the provincial government has yet to approve nor provide funding to the Vancouver School Board (VSB) for the construction of the new school.

And SEFC has not reached full buildout, with the large city-owned property — immediately east of the Cambie Street Bridge, currently used as a city works yard and police vehicle parking lot — yet to be developed.

Olympic Village Southeast False Creek school

Master plan of Southeast False Creek, which includes the Olympic Village. The location of the planned elementary school at Hinge Park is circled in red. (City of Vancouver / Daily Hive)

However, the demand already exists for a new school; Dominato notes that Simon Fraser Elementary (SFE) School at 100 West 15th Avenue, within the school catchment for the Olympic Village neighbourhood, is “significantly overcapacity” and sees nearly three times the in-catchment applications for kindergarten than it can handle.

“The reasonable expectation that an elementary school would be in place for the Olympic Village community by 2020, as noted in the South East False Creek ODP, led many to choose the Olympic Village as a neighbourhood where they could build their lives and livelihoods and start families,” she wrote.

“The overcapacity conditions at Simon Fraser Elementary are forcing families to send students to schools well outside their neighbourhood, with students attending more than two dozen different schools throughout the city.”

According to Dominato, the overcapacity issue is such a concern to the extent that many of Olympic Village’s younger families have given up on the expectation of a neighbourhood school being built in time for their children to attend, and they are being forced to move to other neighbourhoods with available school capacity.

Over the interim, she wants city staff to explore the construction of a temporary Olympic Village elementary school using modular buildings if a permanent new school building cannot be built in a “timely manner.”

The 2017-built Crosstown Elementary School at 55 Expo Boulevard, across from Rogers Arena, in Northeast False Creek. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

In addition to the call for the provincial government’s commitment, Dominato wants the municipal government to collaborate with the VSB to expedite the development and building processes for new and replacement schools.

Demand for school capacity in recent decades has grown exponentially in the downtown Vancouver peninsula and Central Broadway Corridor from the huge increase in population as a result of the new residential density.

In 2017, the school board opened its new 500-student capacity Crosstown Elementary School on Expo Boulevard, across from Rogers Arena, at a cost of about $20 million.

The city and school board are also currently in the process of planning a $57-million, 10-storey, mixed-use public building next to Coal Harbour Community Centre with a new elementary school for up to 320 students, a 69-space childcare facility, and about 45,000 sq. ft. of non-market housing providing up to 60 units.

Construction could begin in June 2021 for a completion by the fall of 2023, but it will be a few more years before the new Coal Harbour elementary school adds any additional capacity, as it will act as the temporary new school for students at the West End’s Lord Roberts Annex site, which will be demolished for a new underground BC Hydro substation. A new replacement school will be built over the utility infrastructure.