As many as 13 elementary and high schools across Vancouver could close if an interim report is approved by school trustees at the end of this month.
The Vancouver School Board issued its Interim Long Range Facilities Plan, a new report that suggests the closure or repurposing of up to 21 schools in the city. The plan aims to increase classroom sizes to 95% capacity in order to receive funding for much-needed seismic upgrades.
“While they promised 10 years ago to seismically upgrade all at-risk schools, they’ve made it increasingly difficult for us to get that funding,” VSB Trustee Patti Bacchus told Vancity Buzz. “Essentially they’ve frozen the funding despite the fact we have dozens of extremely high risk buildings.”
The report puts the number of very high risk schools at 69; that means there would be “wide-spread structural failure” in the event of even a moderate earthquake. Of those buildings, five are currently under construction, 24 have been approved for feasibility planning and 40 are not approved by the Ministry of Education.
The request for 95% classroom capacity comes as a cost-saving measure by the Ministry of Education, according to the report, in order for them to be able to provide funds for seismic upgrades.
According to Bacchus, former Minister of Education Peter Fassbender told the school board back in 2014 they wouldn’t be getting more funding for seismic upgrades until they commit to the plan for increased classroom sizes.
“Obviously that puts us in a real bind,” she says. “We know we are a growing city and we expect population growth.” Indeed, the report notes that despite a historical decrease in enrolment, the number of children entering schools in Vancouver is projected to increase by 1% or about 550 students, over the next 15 years.
When it comes to “repurposing” schools, as the report suggests, Bacchus said that refers to the use of portable classrooms. She said the government won’t fund portables while seismic upgrades are being conducted, meaning they’ll have to rely on current inventory to accommodate construction.
“They consider in many cases things like elementary school art rooms and music rooms vacant. They count adult ed programs as empty seats,” said Bacchus. “We’re going to run into some real challenges.”
In the event of school closures or repurposing, the Vancouver Board of Education would save, on average, around $249,000 a year for an annex, $567,000 for an elementary main school, and nearly $2 million for a secondary school.
No specific schools were selected by the VSB for closure yet, but this initial report will be voted on by trustees on January 25. The VSB has until 2030 to get classrooms up to 95 per cent capacity.