British Columbia

Fate of yellow schoolhouse at General Gordon Elementary in hands of single trustee

Vancouver School Board staff have recommended that a more than 100 year-old school house on the grounds of General Gordon Elementary be demolished, while the former chair of the board says the issue shouldn't be decided by a single, unelected trustee.

Dianne Turner to decide on staff recommendation to demolish more than 100-year-old structure

Is it worth saving? Staff at the Vancouver School Board is recommending this more than 100-year-old schoolhouse on the grounds of General Gordon Elementary school be demolished. (Vancouver Heritage Society/Flickr)

The fate of a more than 100-year-old yellow schoolhouse on the grounds of newly rebuilt General Gordon Elementary school in Vancouver rests in the hands of a single, government-appointed trustee.

On Wednesday, Dianne Turner will receive a report at a VSB committee recommending that the structure be demolished to make way for more playground space and the widening of a nearby laneway.

'Not often what the community wants'

"Often in my experience that's what the staff will recommend, often times it's demolish it, others times it's sell it, sometimes it's close it, sometimes it's just get rid of it," said former VSB chair Patti Bacchus. "And as trustees you go wait a minute, you know that's the easy thing to do but is it the right thing to do? And, it's often not what the community wants."

Patti Bacchus, far right, discusses being dismissed by the ministry of education in October, 2016. (Don Marce/CBC News)

Bacchus was fired along with eight other trustees by the provincial education minister in October 2016. They were replaced by government-appointed Turner, who will run the board on her own for one year.

The fate of the yellow schoolhouse, is an example, Bacchus argues, of the lack of accountability to communities on issues around schools.

"It really kind of sums up the need for locally elected government to make decisions, that are very local decisions," she said.

Bacchus said her board also faced a staff recommendation to demolish the structure in March 2016, but sought to find creative ways to save it, such as having a third party revitalize the building and use it for community programming or as a youth centre or museum.

But since then, those four proposals have all fallen through according to the VSB report.

"The building is in very poor condition and past its useful life," it said. "There would need to be a significant investment to make the building reusable."

VSB staff also say that:

  • The site is too small to meet Ministry of Education standards.
  • Community members want it to be made into an outdoor play space.
  • A $180,000 credit for VSB is being held by the city for completion of the widening of a nearby lane.

The report also questions the heritage value of the structure, although, "it would be appropriate to recognize the building for future generations through installation of a plaque."

Bacchus says if community members want to try and save the building, it will be up to them to attend Wednesday's committee meeting and also contact Turner and the province about their wishes.

"Really these are school board decisions being made on their behalf ... while they don't have school trustees they can go to, they can go to the appointed trustee and to the provincial government," she said.