British Columbia

B.C. transportation ministry accused of attempting to consult wrong school over noisy construction project

The good news for students of St. Augustine's elementary school in Bell Island, Newfoundland and Labrador is that Vancouver's Broadway subway extension is unlikely to cause them any disruption — given that it's 5,000 kilometres away.

St. Augustine's principal claims province mistook school for St. Augustine's in Newfoundland

Michael Yaptinchay is principal of St. Augustine's elementary school in Vancouver. He says the safety of the school's 450 students is at risk because of dangers from a nearby subway extension project. (Zoom)

The good news for students of St. Augustine's elementary school in Bell Island, Newfoundland and Labrador is that Vancouver's Broadway subway extension is unlikely to cause them any disruption — given that it's 5,000 kilometres away.

The principal of Vancouver's St. Augustine's elementary school, on the other hand, believes the much awaited extension to the SkyTrain Millennium line will significantly affect his students — with a station and bus loop built just metres away from school property.

Which is why Vancouver St. Augustine's principal Michael Yaptinchay says he was stunned to see the former principal of Newfoundland's St. Augustine school listed by B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation as a contact for a stakeholder review.

The school is now suing the ministry in a bid to get safety measures implemented that Yaptinchay claims were overlooked as a result of the mistake — which he says he learned about through a freedom of information request.

"The project did in fact reach out to St. Augustine's school, that is correct. But St. Augustine's school in Bell Island, Newfoundland," Yaptinchay said in an interview with CBC.

"So that's a major failure to consult."

'No other school' so close to 'end-of-line' hub

Vancouver's St. Augustine's school filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court Monday against the province, the Ministry of Transportation, the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority and the Broadway Subway Project Corporation.

The school is asking the court to declare St. Augustine's a "key stakeholder" in the 5.7 kilometre extension.

Commuters take the Expo Line SkyTrain at Metrotown station in Burnaby. An extension of the SkyTrain's Millennium line is being built along Broadway. The principal of St. Augustine's elementary school says construction traffic could put students at risk. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

St. Augustine's wants visual barrier and sound barriers around the construction site and dedicated traffic control with the elimination of construction traffic during the time when children are picked up and dropped off.

The school, built in 1911, is one of the oldest in Vancouver. A total of 450 students attend the school — 400 between the ages of five and 12 and 50 between the ages of three and five.

According to the petition, the Broadway subway extension is slated for completion in 2025, with a terminus station and bus loop planned for the corner of Arbutus and West Eighth Avenue — a block from the school grounds.

"The bus loop will be located within 25 metres of the school's playground," the petition reads.

"No other elementary school in all of the Lower Mainland is located in such close proximity to a major end-of-line transportation hub."

'A lot more congestion posing a lot more risk'

The lawsuit claims the project is governed by a contract that imposes "significant community relations" obligations on the parties. The school claims a review required under the terms of the contract recognizes St. Augustine's interest in the safety of students and the need to implement noise and safety measures.

But the petition claims no one consulted with St. Augustine's prior to the announcement of the stations in 2019.

Vancouver's St. Augustine's elementary school is located a block away from the terminus of the new Broadway subway line extension. The school's principal says construction is putting students at risk. (Google Street View)

Instead, they claim that the province and the other defendants "appear to have attempted to consult with a school of a similar name" — St. Augustine's in Bell Island.

"As a result of this careless error, neither the respondents nor any other proponent of the project took any steps to advise the school of the opportunity to provide input about the location of Arbutus station or on necessary mitigation measures if built in its current location," the petition reads.

"Instead, the [school] found out about the project at the same time as the general public."

According to the petition, Yaptinchay and other members of a school advisory committee have tried repeatedly to express their concerns about safety and security risks, attending more than 100 meetings in the past two years.

"There's increased congestion, there's increased hazards, like construction vehicles coming in and out of the site, and a lot more congestion posing a lot more risk," Yaptinchay told the CBC.

"And then of course, there's the noise impacts and the visual impacts that are very distracting to the students and their learning."

Yaptinchay says he's a transit fan, and will very likely be a user of the completed Broadway line.

He says he isn't trying to block the bus loop or the subway stop; he just wants the people building them to ensure his students are safe.

"We are in support of accessible rapid transit," Yaptinchay said. "We just want to make sure that it's done properly and it's done safely."

The principal says the school is hoping to reach a resolution with the province that would mean an end to the lawsuit. He says an immediate resolution might involve traffic diversion and calming measures along with noise and visual barriers.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation said the government was unable to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.

In a statement, the ministry said the project team has met with representatives of the school on 25 occasions, as recently as last week, and has promised to respond "in writing to proposed mitigation measures."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now