The Vancouver School Board will close an adult-education facility in the city's west end to make room for more kindergarten spaces in an area where local schools are jammed to overcapacity and new facilities will not be ready for more than a year.
The hundreds of students registered at the Roberts Education Centre, next to Lord Roberts Elementary School, will be dispersed among five adult education facilities in Vancouver. Three of those are close to the downtown core, one is in east Vancouver and one in south Vancouver.
VSB chair Patti Bacchus said the decision was tough, but necessary.
"The numbers of families who registered for starting kindergarten this coming September [in downtown schools] was greater than expected, so staff have been in a bit of a flurry trying to look at where we're going to place all of these students," she said, noting about 70 students are on downtown kindergarten waiting lists.
"What it's really coming down to is that we just have to have more space downtown. The obvious choice was that we move the adult education program out of the elementary school, where it has used what was surplus place, and allow children from the neighbourhood to have access to the school and use those classrooms."
The Roberts Education Centre on Comox Street has 813 funded, registered students, according to the VSB. Of those, 716 are adults. Of the 813 students, 493 are taking only one course. The school board expects the closing will make space for about 160 kindergarten to Grade 2 students by September, 2015.
Six Vision Vancouver trustees voted in favour of returning the classrooms to Lord Roberts Elementary. Of the three NPA trustees, Ken Denike and Sophia Woo voted against it, while Fraser Ballantyne abstained. A second motion to consolidate the Roberts Education Centre with other adult education facilities, with an amendment by Mr. Denike to explore alternate sites on the downtown peninsula, passed unanimously.
The long-time NPA trustee took issue with what he felt was a rushed decision.
"My feeling of it was that there was not sufficient time for consultation, that the Vision trustees had already made up their minds," Mr. Denike said. "They made it clear that if there was a delay, it wouldn't make any difference, that there would be the same result: They would close Roberts. That did not go over well."
Ms. Bacchus conceded she would have liked more time to "ask questions and hear from people," but said it was not feasible.
"The challenge was that they need to get going now on staffing and school organization for all the kindergarten classes," she said. "If we hold off much longer, it gets very difficult and they have to start placing kids in different schools."
Currently, all school facilities on the downtown peninsula are at or above capacity, according to a March 28 VSB planning memo. Elsie Roy Elementary in Yaletown and Lord Roberts Annex next to Nelson Park had to turn students away for the upcoming school year, with overflow going to Lord Roberts. The school is expected to exceed capacity by 2015-2016.
Meanwhile, a new elementary school planned for International Village (Abbot Street and Expo Boulevard) could open as early as September, 2015, and the VSB has submitted funding requests for schools in Coal Harbour and the former Olympic Village in southeast False Creek. An expansion and upgrade for King George Secondary is also planned.
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