The following column ran in 24 Hours newspaper on Thursday, Dec. 9th. Big credit for the research on the Harland Bartholomew Plan for parks and school properties goes to Andy Yan of Bing Thom Architects.
The issue of school closures in Vancouver is one that has touched me personally, and it is a topic that I’m compelled to speak out upon.
I believe that parents all want the same thing – a safe and robust future for their child, and the best education they can afford. In my community we have faced the possible loss of a school, which currently is the lowest enrolled facility in the city with 65 kids at last count.
When our child first entered McBride Annex Elementary the enrolment was over 100 kids, but then it proceeded to drop year-by-year. I put a lot of personal effort into trying to “save” the school, even toiling in the garden beds watering flowers during the summer break so that it might attract parents of pre-schoolers.
Like many others, I’m disgusted with the process set out by the Vision Vancouver/COPE coalition school board for “consulting” on school closures. I’ve not seen an issue more crassly exploited by elected officials to whip up fear and confusion in our communities than this one.
While districts around the rest of the province are dealing with what to do about declining enrolment – closing schools in neighbourhoods where there are not enough kids – Vancouver continues to struggle with debt, program cuts and layoffs. Vision/COPE authorized a $30,000 citywide poll, which told them that 48% of citizens preferred school closures to cuts, and only 32% said to keep the schools.
In the end the Board ignored the results of their own survey and – lo and behold – put a moratorium on any decision until after the next election. It’s such a cynical move I hardly thought they could actually pull it off.
There are neighbourhoods in Vancouver like Yaletown that have overwhelming demand, yet the School Board can’t afford to expand where service is needed. The cost of educating a child in a low enrolled school is estimated to be as much as 50% higher per pupil!
Many Vancouverites are not aware that their city was planned to deal with demographic shifts, especially when it comes to schools. In 1928, urban planner Harland Bartholomew surveyed every inch within the Vancouver’s boundaries and mapped out exactly what properties should be set aside for schools.
Bartholomew knew the importance of small children to the growth and vitality of a city, and proposed that schools be located within a 10-minute walk from every doorstep. His brilliant master plan factored in the potential for “abandonment” of schools over time, and in fact a large number of schools within the district have been decommissioned in the decades since.
I can only speak about the experience of my neighbourhood but I know that if the McBride Annex closes, another better-attended facility meets that ten-minute walk requirement for families in our catchment.
Thanks to the foresight of Bartholomew’s plan, the city can resist the effects of low birth rates and an aging population. It also means that public schools remain in our midst, and our neighbourhoods can evolve.
- post by Mike