May 6, 2016

Daily Scot: School closures and family-friendly neighbourhoods

From Scot: 

Brent Toderian connects the dots between school closures and neighbourhood density.  Interesting that Vancouver and Richmond with the greatest amount of empty homes in the region are facing the most school closures while in Surrey and the Valley its the complete opposite as family desperately seek affordability. My friend in South Surrey tells of Kindergarten classes consisting of 50 to 60 children..



Another issue, according to former Vancouver city planner Brent Toderian, is that there is often only one type of housing in some elementary school catchments.

That means empty-nesters can’t downsize within their neighbourhoods, and so “hang on with their fingernails” to a home that could welcome a new family, he said.

“One of the many reasons we want to introduce new housing types is to facilitate the return of children. If we don’t, we find the schools are under threat of closure,” he said.

Usually, it’s a city’s downtown that is bereft of children. But Vancouver’s downtown has seen a surge of children so significant that downtown schools are full, and nearby schools like Henry Hudson Elementary and Simon Fraser Elementary are absorbing the spillover.

Elsie Roy Elementary in Yaletown is 10 per cent oversubscribed, while Henry Hudson Elementary is 19 per cent over capacity and Mount Pleasant’s Simon Fraser Elementary is 39 per cent over capacity, according to records.

“You provide the amenities like day care and schools and families with children come and stay in urban places. It’s ironic that some of our urban places are growing and some of our single family areas that are depopulating,” said Toderian.’



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  1. This issue has been going on for as long as I can remember so it’s mostly laziness and lack of creativity that has kept us from a permanent solution. Varied housing to maintain population demographics makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons but it may not be enough to overcome fluctuations that will still occur.

    No doubt some overcrowded suburban schools will see large drops in enrolment within the lifespan of their buildings.

    Schools should be built with a core that can double as a community centre – library, gymnasiums, auditorium, , wood and metal shops, cafeteria etc. most of which can be used by the broader community when school demand is low or in the evenings/weekends at any time. It should also have a reasonable amount of permanent classrooms. But it should be designed for standardized modular classrooms that can be bolted on or removed as demand requires. Their services like heat and electricity should be connected to the central core and they should be of higher quality than most of the portables now in use. There could be room for architectural expression within certain bounds., No reason why they couldn’t be multi-storey instead of the inefficient sprawling portables.

    1. Good ideas, Ron.

      It’s obvious with even a cursory glace at census records that today’s generations give way to tomorrow’s. This affects everything, from private housing to schools and other public services and amenities. Demographics are a missing part of this discussion that ironically uses touchstone words like “family housing” when discussing affordability and public services. What about the tsunami of seniors surfacing amongst Boomers? These tens of millions will need housing and services too, and they will probably outnumber “families” by far.

      Looking at my own childhood in the suburbs of a major western Canadian city I spent at best 8 years attached to a standard backyard before going further afield on bikes with my friends. The yard still needed maintenance but without young kids, it was underused. The house was sold and my mother lived in rental apartments for 30 years before she entered a care facility. Now that I am older I realized that I enjoyed daily access to a suburban backyard over a half century ago.

      I commend Brent Toderian for immediately bringing up land use when discussing housing and affordability, perhaps the most ignored Vital Issue when the conversation is subsumed by the hyperventilating media and blog narrative on the invasion of Chinese money. This is a crucial point. Upzoning one-family zones — the vast white and grey areas on this zoning map

      will work wonders to bring all kinds of ground-oriented attached single family housing onstream at prices a quarter or a third less than the RS-zoned detached houses on full lots, and there will still be a backyard, albeit at a less wasteful size. And it will also work wonders repopulating west side schools. That point is not lost on the school board reps who were at the VPL a couple of weeks ago engaging the public on potential budget cuts and school closures.

      1. Yap. One should also note that VSB has recently built a new elementary/middle school, rebuilt a high school with added capacity and has fixed plans to build another elementary school in the coming years. All in close proximity, up at UBC which has now three schools and will soon have 4. It’s not rocket science to figure out why there are lots of children there.

        Yet people still revel in nostalgic ideals of children living in SFH when it is abundantly clear that the majority of families with children in Vancouver lives in multi-family housing.

        1. Indeed. Why can VSB build schools where there is demand but has a hard time closing them where there is low demand ? What is inherently wrong with VSB’s thinking or systemic structure here ?

          Why not lease the land in low demand areas, develop it or monetize it, perpetually or temporarily, say for 25-35 years ?

          It appears to me that VSB needs new leadership and/or learn from other provincial institutions such as UBC how to monetize one’s assets !

  2. Neighbourhoods and demographics change. It’s one thing to close these schools temporarily, but it would be criminally foolish to sell off the property. Put it on a negotiated lease. If there are no takers, it’d be a better long term investment to leave the building to rot rather than to sell it off.

    If the school property is sold off, you can be guaranteed two things: 1) it will cost 10X to build a new area school when one is needed again as opposed to money ‘lost’ on a lease, and 2) by that time, none of the people responsible for selling off the asset will be around to be held accountable. To the City I say, “Don’t be a dope. Lease the property of any closed schools.”

  3. I’ve lived in Vancouver for many decades. I’ve seen schools bursting at the seams later close entire buildings because enrolment dropped so much and I’ve seen empty buildings fill up as new families replaced old ones.

    Any school deemed “surplus” today must be kept because the cycle will repeat itself and that building will likely be needed in the future. Like Dan says it costs 10X as much to build a new school than it does to maintain and empty old one.

    In the meantime there are other groups that could make use of the facilities. Thanks to a number of factors including a large shift in funding, independent schools in Vancouver are seeing greater demand. Religious groups also operate schools and there are leases in place on former public school buildings. Finally there is French education, something guaranteed to be available in the constitution. That school district is woefully short of good facilities and most students have to travel long distances to school.

    Long term planning must also reflect upcoming zoning changes and land development. The City of Vancouver has proposed re-zoning 100m wide strips along almost every arterial and land like Jericho is going to be home to thousands more people than it is today.

    Unfortunately the provincial government doesn’t employ long term thinking. They insist an area be overflowing with students before even considering a new school and they suggest selling off under-utilized schools that will be needed again in the future.

    While Vancouver wrestles with school closures Surrey can’t get new schools approved and built fast enough. By the time a new elementary school opens in Surrey all the kids that should have attended it are in high school.

  4. VSB needs to learn from UBC: lease some surplus land to build a massive endowment fund to fund required or desired school activities, i.e. teachers, TAs, books, seismic upgrades, chalk etc

    VSB sits on billions of valuable land in the best parts of town and monetization of it – for example by leasing or developing it – must be a core mandate of the VSB. Some sites could house mixed use 4-27 story buildings with a school on first 2-3 floors and commercial, rental or market condos above.

    Where is the VSB in this debate ?

    1. Edit. It looks like the survey is now closed, but the site still provides some interesting information. There is also an Open House on May 8 from 1:00 to 4:00pm at Creekside
      Community Centre (1 Athletes Way), where they’ll “report back to you on themes that
      emerged during 6 open house/workshops, 12 stakeholders meetings, 6 pop-up sessions,
      and in our online survey of more than 1,650 people.”

      You can also send an email to:

  5. The VSB rep I spoke to said there is active discussion to develop the Kingsgate Mall site (Kingsway x Broadway), which it owns. That is, if the province lets it. One day there may be a subway station at its door, so it may be justified to go with “toned down” high density that would be more sensitive to the established Mount Pleasant neighbourhood than The Rize was just across the street, but still with enough density to capture significant profit for the VSB.

    Trouble is, once it’s developed and the revenue is taken, the opportunity is realized and the attention will have to shift to other sites which will suffer similar fates, and the funding crisis may well be shunted into the future as the province dreams on about LNG, backed with mighty big funding. Finite resources don’t last, and are subject to commodity price spikes and troughs beyond the control of Victoria, whereas the demand for quality public education is always there, varies only with each generational change, and mitigating the demand is fully under the control of Victoria.

    We don’t need LNG. We do need LRP (Long Range Planning).

    1. What’s wrong with LNG as a revenue source ? What’s wrong with developing land ?

      Money for teachers doesn’t fall out of the sky, you know, it is paid from a healthy industrial and economic base employing hundreds of thousands !

      Do teachers actually understand that ? Does the VSB ?

    2. What the VSB DOES understand is that Vancouverites paid $519M in school-directed property taxes to the province last year and got a little over $430M back for the school system. The difference could fund seismic upgrading of many existing schools all over town. In effect, the master string pullers redirected the funds to who knows where? Subsidizing small town schools? Paying for LNG infrastructure? Fuel for Christy’s HeliJet trips?

      While Vancouver taxpayers are forced to pay steeply increasing taxes on their escalating housing values, even in poor East Van where tenants pay the tax through their rent, the private and religious schools are getting far more public funding from Christy. Millions and millions. In fact, St. Georges, her son’s private school, pays no property tax whatsoever, yet there it sits deep in Dunbar on some of the highest valued real estate in North America. Like, the rich kids need massive subsidies.

      There is something deeply troubling about that.

      LNG will never be a long-term revenue source, and at the foreseeable low prices and cheaper alternate sources negotiated by BC’s target markets (e.g. China), it may not get off the ground in our lifetimes, if at all. It may become a sinkhole for yet more public debt. And no one has addressed post-industry clean up, such as the pollution of the massive aquifers of the Montney and Horn River basins where billions of litres of fracking waste water will be injected if Christy’s pipe dream is ever realized.

      1. LNG makes a perfect replacement for coal for power generation. More efficient per GW generated at lower CO2 emissions, roughly 75% lower than coal per GW generated. You’re saying that this is bad ? More coal is better ?

        Re school taxes: Are you suggesting rich cities get more $s per kid in school ? To my knowledge each kid gets the same in BC. Are you suggesting American style school funding ?

        Re private schools: they get only 50% of the public school funding per child. ( more here: )

        Are you saying that that should change ? Or are you merely envious that some parents chose to spend thousands or tens of thousands of their own money on their own kids ? Or do you prefer communist style public education ? Or to make private schools illegal ? Or pay teachers – already very well paid for nine months of work annually – even more ?

  6. The other issue here is that in my understanding selling “surplus” land is only good for funding capital projects, and that money cannot go to address the issue of sustainable long-term operating funding which is the key problem for the VSB right now.

  7. So much talk about the school system – brings back memories.

    What psychologists call “defining moments” – my first conscious memory is that of being beaten by a school teacher in kindergarden – they called it strapping then. Caning in British schools was banned just 20 years ago.

    At a very young five, my transgression was crayoning on my desk. I had never been beaten before and here was this adult thug stranger assaulting me. She made me clean it off. I crayoned again. She beat me again and made me clean it off. I crayoned again – this time on my seat and sat on it to conceal my crime. She made me wash it off and strapped me while my hands were still wet. It hurt. I never crayoned again.

    That was a long long time ago. She had her well paid “career” – 180 days of work for a full year’s pay. Who else gets more days off than days on? Even banker’s hours are no longer banker’s hours.

    She’s been dead many years now, after enjoying her fat teacher’s pension. Who else gets defined pensions?

    If I could go back in time I’d strip her of her benefits and charge criminally. I can only imagine what Aboriginal families and Doukhobors went through – children stolen from their parents – indoctrinated and abused by a dominant tribe.

    I was beaten again in later school years by a droning dolt history teacher called Mr. Harding. I have a huge interest now in many forms of history, but still find what he was driveling about utterly boring. He beat me because he bored me. If I could go back in time I’d do the same as with the first, much as I’d like to retaliate physically.

    And there was a vile Gym teacher (calling it Physical Education is absurd) – Clattenburg – he deserved to be slapped silly.

    You hear people mentioning how one school teacher made a difference in their lives – the corollary being that in 13 years of school the rest were nobodies. I never got that one teacher that impressed.

    I have the utmost respect for true teachers – people that have an interest in and teach what they do. School teachers are parrots – part of a broken industrial model. The system sucks, but it’s so damn profitable for them to keep the status quo. It will not change until the financial model is changed.

    One of the best writers on this subject was an award-winning New York school teacher for decades – John Taylor Gatto. His intellect is prodigious – required reading before pontificating.

    There’s tons of room for education – “schooling” is an entirely different animal. When I see my kids getting the same old crap, delivered in the same classrooms, by the same whining school teachers – I despair – what a waste of money.

  8. Read/watch Ricardo Semler – Lumiar School – he’s also brilliant on business; Sir Kenneth Robinson, and John Taylor Gatto. Gatto wrote great books.

    Parents should control the purse strings – not the school system. Each child (customer) is worth, when all cost are factored in, in the neighbourhood of $16,000/yr. That would pay for all the tutors you could ever desire – true customized education – not schooling.

    The kids would probably be better off even if, instead of giving it to the system, the money was banked/invested while they learned on their own. At the end of a typical school sentence that cash would be in the neighbourhood of 250K. If you had two or three kids they’d be an economic juggernaut.

    The school system as it is currently constituted, is based on the Prussian model; and needs of industry for docile worker bees. It has not been around that long.

    If the public school system is so great, why do rich people eschew it, even though it’s “free” – instead, paying even more – essentially twice.

    Would also recommend learning from Jacque Fresco. Someone still lucid in his nineties, who actually knew Einstein, is worth listening to.

    In Boy Smarts, by Barry Macdonald, he mentions that over 80% of the school system is women. This is wrong. There must be parity. Why are so many boys diagnosed with ADHD and deemed to be troublemakers – the women can’t deal with the boy energy. It’s a weird paradigm – hello Columbine.

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