Vancouver school closures: preliminary list released

The Vancouver School Board has released a preliminary list of schools and annexes that might be closed to meet the province's requirements for seismic upgrades.

Critics question why schools need to have 95 per cent enrolment to be eligible for seismic funding

Vancouver School Board chair Mike Lombardi released the list of potential school closures on Monday afternoon. (Deborah Goble/CBC)

The Vancouver School Board has released a preliminary list of schools and annexes that might be closed to meet the province's requirements for seismic upgrades.

Board chair Mike Lombardi said the list includes schools that aren't being utilized enough and others that have structural issues.

He says the list is very preliminary, and a lot more work needs to be done before a decision is made to go ahead and close any school.

The schools are:

  • Admiral Seymour Elementary School 
  • Britannia Secondary School
  • Champlain Heights Annex (Kindergarten to Grade 3)
  • Gladstone Secondary School
  • Graham D. Bruce Elementary School
  • Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School
  • Dr. A. R. Lord Elementary
  • McBride Annex (Kindergarten to Grade 3)
  • ​Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School
  • Queen Elizabeth Annex (Kindergarten to Grade 3)
  • Queen Alexandra Elementary School
  • ​Tecumseh Annex (Kindergarten to Grade 3)

All but one of the schools are on Vancouver's east side. 

Lombardi said a final decision about which schools will close wouldn't be made until December 2016, and the earliest they could shut their doors would be June 30, 2017. 

The announcement was made as part of the VSB's long-term facilities plan to put in place seismic upgrades. Lombardi said 20 upgrades have already been completed, but 61 schools are still on the list.

"This plan is driven and based on the Ministry of Education's requirement that we have a district-wide capacity utilization of 95 per cent," Lombardi said, adding that many parents have questioned that target.

Education minister 'encouraged'

Education Minister Mike Bernier said he was pleased to hear the Vancouver School Board is taking action on declining enrolment. 

He said Vancouver has seen a 10 per cent drop in students since 2001, and too much money is being wasted on empty seats. 

"That's the amount of money that's not going into programming in Vancouver," said Bernier. "I'm encouraged, they've taken the first step in changing that direction."

Bernier said an Ernst & Young report released 18 months ago showed $37 million per year was being spent on empty seats in classrooms. 

"Amalgamation offers parents in Vancouver more, not less. A school with more students is one that can offer more and better programs," Bernier said. 

"The result is that limited resources go where they should be, which is into services for students not into empty seats and empty classrooms."

Bernier also said the 95 per cent enrolment was a target established between the province and the last VSB chair, Patti Bacchus.

"That was a goal, it's not a cut off," Bernier said. 

Bacchus was quick to take to Twitter to contradict Bernier, saying the target was an "ultimatum" from former Education Minister Peter Fassbender in order to get funding for seismic upgrades.

She also said, as she has before, that some of the "empty" classrooms factored into calculating capacity are used for specialty classes like music and art. 

95% target questioned

The district needs to shut as many as 21 schools in order to get school occupancy levels up to 95 per cent capacity to qualify for provincial funding for seismic upgrades.

Earlier in the day, Lombardi questioned why the province has set such a high target for enrolment.

"A big problem is our government has arbitrarily set this 95 per cent capacity utilization formula, which is not based on any kind of educational rationale," said Lombardi.

The NDP education critic Rob Fleming also questioned the 95 per cent requirement.

"The 95 per cent capacity rule is absolutely arbitrary," Fleming said. "There is no other province that I have found that uses this as a guideline.

"The fact that the Vancouver School Board is having to consider such an extensive list of school closures is going to cause a lot to pain.... it's a huge uprooting of students ... and a lot of uncertainty," said Fleming

Parents concerned

Earlier on Monday, Andrea Sinclair, a member of of the Parent Advocacy Network in Vancouver, said many families were on edge ahead of today's announcement.

"It's a big deal to close a school. Whether we believe it's the right thing to do or it's not right for that school, it's a huge undertaking that displaces a great amount of people."

Sinclair said most of all, there was a lot of anxiety over which schools will be identified and whether the decisions will be final.

"What I'm hearing from parents is the uncertainty over who is on the list today and what does that look like."

Individual reports on the impact of closing each of the schools will be prepared for the board to consider this September.

"Then trustees will decide whether or not any of the schools stay on the list," said Lombardi.