Nine of 12 schools on the Vancouver School Board's list for potential closing have a high overall seismic rating, and some include structures considered to be at the highest risk of damage or structural failure in an earthquake.
The seismic ratings, along with information about current and projected enrolment and how much money would be saved by closing the schools, are included in administrative reports filed on Tuesday as part of a process that could lead to the closing of up to a dozen schools – most of them on the city's east side.
The debate about closing schools follows years of wrangling between the province and the school board over the cost and timing of seismic upgrades. The province forced the issue by requiring the board to work toward bringing enrolment to 95 per cent of its capacity to get funding for seismic upgrades.
The board has balked at that target.
"We have taken the position that a 95-per-cent capacity utilization rate is not reasonable, it's not based on research and not supported by the educational community, and we are continuing to advocate for that to be changed," board chairman Mike Lombardi said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The Vancouver School Board has been under pressure to close schools because of declining enrolment and tight budgets.
A 2015 report by EY (formerly Ernst & Young), commissioned by the provincial Ministry of Education, recommended the school board commit to an "aggressive asset rationalization approach" that would close up to 19 schools.
The list of 12 has come about through the Long Range Facilities Plan, a board document released earlier this year that has a 14-year time frame and takes into account issues such as where new schools may be needed and which existing ones require seismic upgrading.
The district has 110 schools. Nearly half are more than 80 years old.
That means dozens of schools require seismic upgrades.
Of the 12 schools on the potential list of closings, only one – Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School – is listed as a completed seismic project with a medium seismic rating. The others have high or medium seismic ratings.
Graham D. Bruce Elementary School, for example, has an overall high seismic rating, with one of its two blocks having an H1, or highest-risk rating, and the other deemed an H3 – which is defined as "isolated failure to building elements such as walls are expected; building likely not reparable after event."
The earliest any school would close would be June 30, 2017.
"To close a school, there's a very systematic process that has to be followed," Mr. Lombardi said. "Our process contemplates a fair, transparent reasonable process."
The next major step is scheduled for Sept. 26, when trustees at a public board meeting will decide which – if any – schools on the preliminary list will be considered for closing.
Community advocates are lobbying to keep schools open, arguing that future enrolment could change and that underused schools provide health, social and education benefits.
At the same event on Tuesday, B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier announced $13.1-million in seismic upgrading for Dr. Annie B. Jamieson Elementary School, which is not on the closing list.
The work is scheduled to begin next year and wrap up in 2019.
Mr. Bernier said the government has been flexible about the capacity target, with some recent seismic projects approved at schools that were at less than 95 per cent.
"When we look at Vancouver specifically, we know there's work to be done," Mr. Bernier said. "Today's announcement is part of that partnership, it is part of moving forward."