British Columbia

Potential Vancouver school closures accepted in exchange for seismic upgrades

Vancouver School Board trustees have voted in favour of potentially closing as many as 13 schools in the city in exchange for overdue seismic upgrades.

Trustees say they felt pressure to vote in favour of the closure

Schoolchildren hide under classroom desks during an earthquake drill
The VSB could close up to 13 schools in exchange for seismic upgrades. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Vancouver School Board trustees have voted unanimously in favour of potentially closing as many as 13 schools in exchange for overdue seismic upgrades. 

Trustees approved the committee on planning and facilities recommendations as a way to comply with the province's requirements outlined in its seismic mitigation plan, which includes an expectation that Vancouver schools must be filled to 95 per cent capacity before upgrades would be considered. 

Many of the trustees said they felt obligated to vote in favour of the plan in order to get the seismic upgrades. 

"I realize that the government of B.C. has given me no choice but to vote in favour of this recommendation," said trustee Joy Alexander.

It's not the decision many parents who attended the meeting were hoping for either, but some said they understood the position the trustees were in.

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"They're really between a rock and a hard place," said Jennifer Stewart with Families Against Cuts to Education 

12 elementary schools and one high school would be closed over the next 15 years.

But VSB chair Mike Lombardi said the plan isn't written in stone, the board hasn't made any final decisions on which schools to close, and changes could be made before the plan is put in place. 

"We have a very significant policy in Vancouver where there is a year long process before any school closed," said Lombardi. 

Parents and trustees alike said the way school capacity is measured is inaccurate — rooms used for art, music and computer classes often sit empty but are factored into the equation. 

"Things like special education classes, where you may have as many as six kids in the class because of their high needs ... are still subject to the same capacity rules," said Stewart. 

The school board said public consultations on the closure will start in late February. Feedback from the public wil be included in an updated plan sent to the Ministry of Education in June. 

With files from Kamil Karamali