Coal Harbour residents call for elementary school

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Nearby schools are already at capacity, says MLA Chandra Herbert and parents

Some parents in Vancouver's Coal Harbour neighbourhood say their children need an elementary school in the area now because nearby schools are already full.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Some parents in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour neighbourhood say their children need an elementary school in the area now because nearby schools are already full.

Coal Harbour will have to wait at least a few years for an elementary school but the local MLA and some parents say the neighbourhood needs one now.

While East Vancouver schools are struggling to justify their existence due to low enrolment, the number of children in the downtown area, including Coal Harbour, has more than doubled since 2001, according to City of Vancouver data.

Neil Cave’s family moved to a Coal Harbour apartment three years ago, around the same time their second child was born. He currently drives his five-year old son across the Lionsgate Bridge to a North Vancouver school five days a week and says he would probably send his children to a Coal Harbour school if it existed.

“We would very likely send our kids there. We like the neighbourhood – the one big thing missing is a school.”

But Cave and other families in Coal Harbour will likely have to wait more than a few years for that school to be built, despite growing enrolment in Downtown’s three schools.

Several parents who live in downtown told Metro there are waiting lists for kindergarten classes in the West End’s Lord Roberts and Yaletown’s Elsie Roy elementary schools.

That’s why MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert is calling on the government to provide funding for the school now. The new 510-seat Crosstown Elementary in Northeast False Creek is a positive development but it won’t help families in the West End, he explained.

“All we’re waiting for is the province to step up. It’s kind of a real winner,” he said.

The plans for a Coal Harbour school, which would be located next to the neighbourhood’s community centre, were drawn up back in the 90s for the original Coal Harbour community plan, he said.

“Basically it would be an elementary school, a bit of a play space on the roof with the child care space and then low income affordable housing above it.”

The Vancouver School Board says the hypothetical 320-seat Coal Harbour elementary is in the 2017-18 capital plan as one of several possible projects the district may submit to the province for funding. If the district goes ahead with that $21-million request, it wouldn’t happen until the 2018-19 school year, associate superintendent David Nelson told Metro.

He says while the school has always been a possibility, there hasn’t been enough demand for it. That will change soon, he conceded.

“When we look ahead, there is no question that over the next 15-year horizon, we will need a school in Coal Harbour.”

He added that Downtown’s only high school, King George Secondary, would need an expansion to keep up with population projections as well.

In response to Metro’s request for comment, the Ministry of Education said the Vancouver School Board had not identified a Coal Harbour Elementary School as a top priority this year or last year. It added that the highest priorities set by VSB has been seismic upgrades and that there are nine of them, worth about $200 million, currently underway.