British Columbia

BC Hydro plan to build substation beneath school too hasty, say critics

A plan to build to build a underground B.C. Hydro substation beneath a West End school has been met with skepticism by some parents as the deadline for the deal looms.

As deadline looms, parent says plan is 'fast and rushed'

Artist's rendering of the Lord Robert School Annex on Nelson Street. Under the BC Hydro plan, the school would be demolished and the students temporarily moved to a new school in Coal Harbour. After that, a substation would be built underground and a new school constructed on the same property. (B.C. Hydro)

A plan to build to build two underground hydro substations — one near a West End school — has been met with skepticism by some parents as the deadline for the deal looms.

Some say they don't have enough information on the deal in which BC Hydro would pay to build two new schools in downtown Vancouver, in exchange for the right to build two underground hydro substations — one beneath a Yaletown park and another below the property at the Lord Roberts School Annex in the West End.

The plan was pitched by BC Hydro in January and the deal is to be voted on next month by the Vancouver School and Park Board.

Some parents say that's not enough time to decide on a disruptive project that would force their kids to move schools during construction of the substation.

They also say they want a guarantee that the money BC Hydro is offering the school board will definitely build two new schools.

"We're very cautious and skeptical of how fast and rushed the process seems." said Tara Hill, a mother of two young children, one of whom attends kindergarten at Lord Roberts School Annex.

"What guarantees do we have that all these carrots so to speak that have been dangled in front of our faces . . . .what guarantees do we have that those are going to happen?"

Will school board deliver Hydro's promises?

On paper, the plan looks terrific, Hill said. The downtown needs new schools and Hydro is promising to pay for two, but there's been no guarantee that the Vancouver School Board must use the money to build schools.

Finally, there is concern that a high-stakes deal is to be decided by a school board that's been reduced to a lone government appointee. The provincial government fired the Vancouver school board last year, after it failed to pass a balanced budget. It appointed a former school superintendent, Dianne Turner.

Patti Bacchus, one of the fired trustees, said she fears the board could use the money to fund other projects.

BC Hydro map depicts locations of existing school and park where the utility plans to build two new substations. It also shows the existing downtown substation and proposed upgrades to parks. (BC Hydro)

"As soon as the money is sitting in an account, the government can say to the Vancouver School Board, 'You need to use that money for A, B, C', and they will have the power to do that," she said.

Turner said the school board is committed to building two schools, and it's also keen to hear from parents about safety concerns.

"I've heard comments that maybe this is a done deal," Turner said. "It's not a done deal. I'm still learning about this proposal."

Turner said the school board will be holding a meeting in the near future to hear from parents. BC Hydro will hold an open house Monday night and a final one on Wednesday

Aging substations

BC Hydro says it needs to build underground substations — and fast — because it must replace three aging Vancouver substations to meet the city's future power needs

Rather than launch a search for two large above-ground lots in pricey Vancouver, it came up with the plan to bury the substations.

Andrew Leonard, BC Hydro's project manager, said the new substations will be safe and will use a non-toxic gas for insulation instead of oil, reducing the risk of fire.

Leonard said Hydro's idea to offer to pay for new schools is genuine. There has been no indication the school board will use the money for other projects, he said.

"If the end result . . . isn't a new school, that would trouble B.C. Hydro," Leonard said.