On January 10, 2008, VSB announced its Educational Facilities Review and its plan to collect feedback through a series of public meetings, surveys, school team reports, and delegate presentations to the Board of Trustees. At stake is a proposal to:
- Close Queen Elizabeth Annex;
- Carry out seismic renovations at Queen Mary, Jules Quesnel, and Queen Elizabeth; and
- Build 2 new schools at UBC.
On March 11, 2008, the Board of Trustees will deliberate and vote for or against the proposal in its current state or a revised version of the proposal based on feedback received.
Residents in UEL and UNA desperately need the 2 new schools recommended in the proposal. Although the provincial government, who is responsible for providing funds to build new schools, approved the expansion of the current UHill Secondary school from 325 to 675 student spaces, it did not approve funds to build a new elementary school due to excess space in the district.
In reviewing the district’s excess space, VSB identified Queen Elizabeth Annex (QEA) as a candidate for amalgamation with Queen Elizabeth. QEA offers both an English instruction program and a French Immersion program. Currently, there are 2 elementary schools with English instruction (QEA and Queen Elizabeth) and 2 elementary schools with French Immersion (QEA and Jules Quesnel) in the same catchment area QEA is located. VSB is recommending that both the English and French Immersion programs at QEA be moved into Queen Elizabeth.
The VSB proposal clearly states that the reason for closing QEA is for the future financial sustainability of the district. Annexes are more costly (per student) to operate due to its smaller class sizes and smaller building. VSB estimates that the district can save an average of $1000 per student space when an annex is closed. Closing QEA can potentially save VSB as much as $130,000/year in operational costs (from instructional expenses and non-instructional expenses such cleaning, maintenance, utilities, etc.).
Although the UEL and UNA communities can benefit from the sale of the QEA grounds, it is not the reason for its consideration for closure. Nor will the new schools be the sole beneficiaries of the annual savings in operational costs.
Some parents feel that UBC should pay for a new school at its campus. On Friday, January 25, 2008, UBC issued a statement which was summarized in a Vancouver Sun Article. It states that although UBC, like other developers, is required to provide land for a new school, it is the provincial government that is responsible for providing funds to build new schools out of our taxes. Taxes which all homeowners in the UEL and UNA pay and are entitled to. A further, more detailed document was released to parent reps on Monday, January 28, 2008 which addressed specific questions parents of Queen Elizabeth Annex raised. This document made clear the mis-interpretation of planning documents by parents of QEA and recounted UBC’s proposal to finance the renovation of the NRC building into a new secondary school in return for a 30-yr lease to re-pay the cost. However, the proposal, which was subject to approval by the provincial government, was rejected due to its rules for funding capital projects.
Lost in the controversies over the closure of QEA and that UBC should pay for the problems created by its growing community are the seismic upgrades to Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, and Jules Quesnel. The current plan for Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary is to vacate parts of the building, renovate, move students back into the renovated space, and renovate the new space vacated by the move. However, this shuffle of students is only possible if there is a new school for students from UEL and UNA to go to. Without the new school, VSB would have to move students into portables in order to vacate parts of the building for renovation.
Although not ideal, renovating the schools while students are still attending Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary is possible due to its under enrolment of students from its catchment area. However, this is not the case with Jules Quesnel. Jules Quesnel has more students than it should. In its proposal, VSB recommends that students from Jules Quesnel be moved to the new elementary school while the building is being renovated. If there is no new school, VSB will have to move students into portables and renovate the school by moving the remaining students around. But, since there is no physical space at Jules Quesnel for portables, the portables will be placed on the grounds of Queen Elizabeth. This could mean that some students will be moved to Queen Elizabeth while others remain at Jules Quesnel for the duration of the seismic upgrade. Or, it could mean that the all students from Jules Quesnel will move into portables at Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth will have to share its gym, cafeteria, libray, and washrooms with 400+ more students. Relocating the students from Jules Quesnel into the new elementary school is a better solution for the students of Jules Quesnel.
Contrary to the statements from QEA parents that VSB’s proposal was not properly analyzed, I believe that VSB has done its homework. Like other public entities, it must work within a myriad of policies and regulations. VSB’s proprosal is a result of more than 5 years of discussions involving parents, UBC, and VSB. Let’s not let it go to waste. Our fight for new schools is not over yet. Please tell VSB what you think. Fill in the online survey and email email@example.com with comments the school team can pass along to the Trustees who will be deciding the future of our schools.
Parents from UEL and UNA will be holding a meeting open to all residents of UEL and UNA. The purpose of this meeting is to allow residents to speak freely about VSB’s proposal regardless of what school their children attend. Please join us at:
For those who are interested in what others have to say, I’ve included links to articles and blogs from those in support and those against VSB’s proposal: