Vancouver Schools Enter The Real Estate Game

Facing a $15 million shortfall, the Vancouver school board is under pressure to cut costs.

October 1, 2015

By John Burns

This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of Vancouver magazine.

The struggle between the Vancouver school board and the provincial government has ground on ever since Gordon Campbell first brought the Liberals to power 14 years ago. (Certainly, the two bodies had their disagreements even before.) That means an entire generation of children has come of age on a battlefield, dodging bullets from both sides as standardized testing, the cancelling of various non-core programs, and two teachers’ strikes have redefined what was once a relatively peaceful system.

The latest salvo comes from independent auditor Ernst & Young, whose June 8 Report on the Special Advisor’s Review of the Vancouver Board of Education (District 39) recommends that to stanch financial hemorrhaging, the school board should consider selling—sorry, reducing “surplus capacity through an aggressive asset rationalization approach” to—19 unnamed schools, for revenues of up to $750 million.

That’s a mix of giving up leases (including Kitsilano’s Vinery Program) and offloading some school board properties. Chief Maquinna Annex, near Renfrew and East Second, already won’t be reopening this month, though the board is adamant it’s not planning to engage realtors anytime soon.

Maquinna was looking at 33 percent occupancy, and overall, student flight from underperforming schools, combined with shifting demographics, has seen facilities on the East Side run significantly emptier than those on the West; 37 buildings are three-quarters full or less; of those, all but three—University Hill secondary, Sir William Osler elementary, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Annex—are east of Main Street.

For newly elected head trustee Fraser Ballantyne (the previous chair lasted six months), these considerations and many more will reignite after Labour Day, as real estate becomes mandatory curriculum for many buildings.

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