British Columbia

Vancouver elementary school damaged by fire faces potential closure — for the 3rd time in 13 years

A Vancouver School Board staff report is recommending trustees consider the school's permanent closure, citing a decline in student enrolment along with costly repairs and the need for seismic upgrades to the school's infrastructure.

Trustee worries closure could leave remaining schools struggling to accommodate future enrolment increase

Large red brick building serves as school in East Vancouver.
Vancouver School Board staff are recommending the permanent closure of Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School by January 2024. (Google Maps)

One of Vancouver's oldest schools is again being considered for permanent closure.

It is the third time in 13 years the Vancouver School Board (VSB) has placed Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School on its list of schools that could be shut down for good. 

Opened in 1896 on a 261,360-square-foot property at 3250 Kingsway in East Vancouver's Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood, the school has been temporarily closed since 2016 when it was damaged by a severe fire. Students were then integrated to Cunningham Elementary School.

Now, a VSB staff report is recommending trustees consider the school's permanent closure, citing a decline in student enrolment along with costly repairs and the need for seismic upgrades to the school's infrastructure.

"Allocating the necessary district resources to return Carleton to a condition that would be suitable to accommodate students would be an ineffective use for district resources as the school would remain at high seismic risk," the report reads.

However, some parents and school officials worry that could leave remaining schools struggling to accommodate a potential increase in future enrolment.

Sir Guy Carleton Elementary school sits on a six-acre property at 3250 Kingsway — at the intersection of East 41st Avenue/Joyce Street and Kingsway.
A Vancouver School Board staff report is recommending the closure of the school, located on 3250 Kingsway, citing a decline in student enrolment along with costly repairs and the need for seismic upgrades to the school's infrastructure. (Google Maps)

"There's no way I could even entertain the discussion of closure given the fact that the data just doesn't add up with the developments we're seeing in the area," said school board trustee Jennifer Reddy, referring to VSB data.

Reddy said the neighbourhood could see more enrolment demand in the future from housing densification around the Joyce-Collingwood SkyTrain Station, and an expected influx of newcomers to B.C. by 2025. 

'Not thinking about the parents'

According to the school board, there were 62 students from the former Carleton school catchment attending Cunningham Elementary in September 2022 — down from 116 students in September 2016, with the number forecasted to decrease.

Beatriz Zarzosa's daughter is within the catchment for Carleton elementary, but has been attending Cunningham two kilometres or about a 25-minute walk away.

"The VSB is not thinking about the parents. We are the ones who are actually having to take more time to take the kids to schools farther away," said Zarzosa, who sits on the parent advisory council at Cunningham Elementary.

The report suggests the three remaining elementary schools in the neighbourhood can accommodate former Carleton students, but Reddy is skeptical. 

"My concern with that is our own data up until 2032 doesn't show an increase [in student capacity] in those schools if Carleton remained closed. So I worry that we're not accommodating for the expected increase in children in the area."

The VSB declined an interview with CBC but said in a statement that trustees would have to take more steps before deciding on the school's closure, including whether to initiate a public consultation.

"I think they will vote it, they will close it. But at this point it's not making any sense because we will receive more immigrants," said Zarzosa. 

The VSB's facilities planning committee is reviewing the report and will make a recommendation to school board trustees at a closed-door meeting on June 7. 

In 2010, the school was one of five in Vancouver slated for closure in an effort to decrease the VSB's $18-million budget deficit. Six years later, in 2016, it once again faced potential closure due to provincial underfunding and low enrolment. 

Future of the school site 

According to VSB, the consideration to permanently close Carleton is also based on "potential opportunities for alternate community use and capital revenue generation for the Board," including the possibility of a long-term lease of the site, or sale of at least a portion of it.

For the past 11 years, the Green Thumb Theatre has leased the original 127-year-old Carleton schoolhouse on the site — one of five buildings that make elementary school complex, which was not damaged in the fire.

School board staff estimate the cost to repair the fire damage in the main brick building, and subsequent damage due to vandalism, is about $10 million. They say provincial funding is not available to repair the fire damage or provide seismic upgrades due to the forecasted low enrolment. 

Reddy says the province and school board should be investing in the historical site to provide education as well as child-care needs. 

"Child-care needs are not being met across the city, but in particular in that neighborhood it's only being met 20 per cent of the demand," Reddy said.

"I don't see it as my role to sacrifice future generations' opportunity to have access to public spaces."

Reddy said community members, including parents, can register to share their opinions about the potential closure at a public delegation meeting on June 19.

School board staff are recommending the official closure of the school on Jan. 1, 2024.


Janella Hamilton


Janella Hamilton is a video journalist at CBC Vancouver.