Lobbyists saving old buildings trumping needs of students and taxpayers

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

4 comments

johnoliver.jpg Seismically updgrading John Oliver secondary will cost taxpayers $44.1 million dollars

If you ask any parent, they’ll tell you that providing their kids with a good education is very high on their list of priorities. In order to transform that goal into a reality, it’s clear you need to hire good teachers and construct high-quality facilities.

While Vancouver students have access to top-notch educators, they don’t have access to excellent facilities. A sizable number of kids receive instruction in buildings that were constructed more than one hundred years ago and that have long since passed their best-before date. Interestingly, it’s actually the City of Vancouver that registers these old buildings and tries everything possible to avoid demolition.

This means the Ministry of Education is limited in what it can do to modernize these antiquated facilities. Either they spend big bucks upgrading what I refer to as “school museums” or they find nearby land to construct a new facility.

The political reality is the needs of lobbyists advocating to save these decaying buildings have surpassed those of our students. It’s likely one of the main reasons why so many kids are forced to attend school in aging buildings that would crumble during a major earthquake.

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If we’re truly interested in putting the needs of students first, shouldn’t we treat schools as learning facilities rather than relics of a bygone era? By doing so, the B.C. government wouldn’t be forced to use scarce education dollars to patch up these old dilapidated buildings.

A report published last week should be a wake-up call for all taxpayers. An auditor hired to review the B.C. government’s seismic upgrade program for local schools revealed some stunning information.

The audit team found that for 16 of the 48 schools identified, the cost of building a new school is equal to or less than the cost of seismically upgrading existing buildings. This should come as no surprise when you consider “school museums” are held together with old bricks and mortar.

With the B.C. government struggling to balance its budget, perhaps now it’s time we re-think whether we should continue to meet the demands of “heritage” lobbyists. This is especially true when you consider most parents would likely prefer their children attend new schools versus more expensive refurbished buildings.

While I love the look of musty old buildings, I do question the need to extend that admiration to our children’s schools. After all, the primary purpose of those facilities should be to give our kids every possible advantage. Based on current priorities, it would appear that not everyone shares my opinion.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on on Twitter @CityCaucus or you can "like" us on Facebook at facebook.com/citycaucus. This column was first published in 24 Hours Vancouver on Thursday, Oct 13th, 2011.

4 Comments

I've been thinking about the same issue - the politics of schools and school real estate - a fair bit here in Winnipeg; I think it depends a great deal on the school in question. Here and there in most older Canadian cities, there are at least a few schools which are genuine architectural hallmarks, and then some others which are just old schools. I think your point is fair for the vast majority, but I'd be prepared to make allowances for the exceptions. Maybe urge them to pick one or two they really care about and rebuild the rest.

That said, the other issue is transitional. To take one or several schools offline to rebuild them from the ground up forces you to find somewhere else to teach those kids for at least a year, or it forces you to build elsewhere on the site, creating a different set of issues to manage.

I attended Jayo in the 70's. It was old and unattractive then and it is no better now.

Replace the thing.

A large part of education is connecting the present to the past so that we can have a future. Learning in a building with a history or one that connects deeply to history is part of this. So I would not be so quick to dismiss the value of the old. And I would not underestimate the damage done by learning in poorly designed and built education factories (I attended one in Ste. Foy QC) and envied the relationship that my own kids had with the building they went to high school in (Kits). But we do need to make trade offs and given the need for real seismic upgrading no doubt a number of schools in Vancouver will have to be sacrificed. It will just cost too much to upgrade them. But this is not something I will celebrate. And I hope that we make a real investment in architecture and construction for the replacements. There is an awful lot of shoddy construction in Vancouver - leaky condos anyone?

Steve, I agree with you but let's keep a few stars worth saving. Jayo was not worth saving 40 years ago - never mind now. That neighbourhood needs a facility that will inspire kids to learn and stay in school. There is nothing inspiring about that dark, cold and dingy facility.

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