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Frustrated Olympic Village parents ask where’s the school they were promised

Kids caught in power struggle between Vancouver School Board and province
Lisa McAllister (left) and Fiorella Pinillos (right) are Olympic Village parents with kids at Creeks
Lisa McAllister (left) and Fiorella Pinillos (right) are Olympic Village parents with kids at Creekside Preschool. McAllister says the eight kids who aged out of her daughter’s daycare to kindergarten this fall went to eight different elementary schools. Photo Tracy Sherlock

Kindergarten registration in Vancouver starts Nov. 1.

But Lisa McAllister, who lives in Olympic Village and doesn’t own a car, doesn’t have a neighbourhood school to register her daughter.

Instead, she will walk 30 minutes from her home to sign up at Simon Fraser elementary, on 15th Avenue between Cambie and Main, where she will ultimately have to win a lottery to get her daughter in.

“Do I have to buy a car to get my kids to school? That seems absurd,” McAllister said.  

The Olympics have come and gone, nearly a decade ago, and city plans have long called for a school to be built in Olympic Village by 2020. But despite the land being available and the school board asking for the money to build a school since 2007, the province hasn’t agreed.

Ground has yet to be broken, there is no project in the works.

For McAllister, who also has a one year old, the school is the heart of a community.

“I think our community is really missing that and I think that we deserve to have that for our kids,” McAllister said.  

Kids from Olympic Village go to many different schools throughout Vancouver. The eight kids who aged out of McAllister’s daughter’s daycare to kindergarten this fall went to eight different elementary schools.

That makes it tough to carpool, tough to arrange childcare, tough to maintain friendships, tough for older kids to get any measure of independence and tough to build a community.

City councillor Lisa Dominato, who was a school trustee before turning to city council, put forward a motion last month, asking city staff to create a “fast-track” process to approve schools. The motion, which passed, calls for the city to consider leasing the designated land adjacent to Hinge Park at the foot of Columbia Street to the VSB for a nominal sum to expedite construction and to consider building a modular school.

“I think it’s critically important that the province look at this, both in the context of our local priorities, but also provincial priorities in terms of reducing our carbon footprint and supporting walkable neighbourhoods,” Dominato said.

The Olympic Village school is caught in a power struggle between the province and the Vancouver School Board. The province usually pays for schools to be built, while it’s the role of the school board to manage enrolment and catchment areas.

Simon Fraser elementary has been bursting at the seams since at least 2013, when 88 kindergarten students signed up for 44 spaces. Last year, 105 signed up. Five other nearby schools are also squeezed for space.

McAllister and a group of neighbourhood parents want the VSB to look at creative solutions, such as building a temporary modular school or sending neighbourhood kids by bus to another school with room.  

“I think if we are creative, we could find a mutually acceptable interim solution,” McAllister said. 

Education Minister Rob Fleming said it was only this past June that the VSB identified an Olympic Village school as its number one request. He touted the province’s announcements of $272 million for badly needed seismic upgrades in the city’s schools.

He agreed that parts of Vancouver are densifying, but said enrolment is not forecasted to grow in the city’s schools.

“…[T]he Vancouver School Board has a large number of surplus seats with many schools operating below their intended capacities. Three hundred and fifty of these surplus seats are within two kilometers of Olympic Village,” Fleming said in an emailed response.

Those extra seats are at Crosstown, Nightingale and Mount Pleasant elementary schools, the ministry said.

But the VSB says Crosstown will be full within the next few years, so it’s not a long-term solution. Mount Pleasant only has room for 60 more students, which isn’t enough to hold the Olympic Village child population, and Nightingale has room for 163. While it is within two kilometres of Olympic Village, Nightingale, near Kingsway and 12th Avenue, is a 30-minute walk away from Olympic Village, along one of the city’s busiest corridors.

It doesn’t sound like Fleming plans to fund a school anytime soon.

Parents are frustrated.

“There’s a small chance a new school might be here for my son, who is now one,” McAllister said. “There’s almost a whole generation here that’s being punished through no fault of their own.”

The powers that be must find a solution for a neighbourhood school in Olympic Village before another generation of kids spends their elementary school lives separated, isolated and far from home.