After years of flatlining, the recent spike in North Vancouver’s student enrolment may mean a new school in Lower Lonsdale, according to district superintendent Mark Pearmain.
Approximately 250 Lower Lonsdale students make a daily commute to Larson, Braemar and Cleveland elementaries, according to Pearmain, who addressed City of North Vancouver council Nov. 14.
If the upward enrolment trend continues, North Vancouver’s waterfront district will need a Kindergarten to Grade 7 school in five to eight years, according to Pearmain.
Rather than paying for new land, the school district should rebuild and reopen Cloverley, suggested Mayor Darrell Mussatto, saying “I would love for us to have a school that could take at least half of Lower Lonsdale.”
Cloverley is not necessarily ideal, Pearmain noted. “What we are seeing currently with the Cloverely site is that that’s not … where the most density is,” he said.
The school district considered allowing residential development at Cloverley in 2014 but no plans have been finalized for the site.
Mussatto questioned Pearmain about moving Queen Mary elementary’s International Baccalaureate program to Cloverley.
“I was told that if the IB program wasn’t at Queen Mary there’d be a whole lot of empty spaces,” he said. “So is there any thought about moving the IB program out so that people living in the area can go to that school?”
There are no plans to move Queen Mary’s IB program, according to Pearmain, who explained that provincial law allows parents to enroll their child in any school with an empty desk. Approximately 43 per cent of students in Queen Mary’s catchment area attend the school, which is an increase from 33 per cent in 2012.
Buying land should be a last resort, Mussatto advised.
“We don’t have a lot of land left in Lower Lonsdale and we can’t go without selling it at market value,” he said.
If the school district does buy land, it should consider a city-owned plot on Alder Street (just above the Low Level Road between St. Patricks and St. Davids avenues), suggested Coun. Rod Clark.
Pearmain suggested the new Lower Lonsdale school would have a French immersion program, which rankled Coun. Pam Bookham.
She suggested French immersion might draw students from across the school district, exacerbating “an already existing traffic congestion program.”
Bookham echoed Mussatto’s call to move the IB program, particularly if the move allows more kids to walk to school on city paths “that we have spent a great deal of money on.”
The increasing enrolment is evidence families are moving into Lower Lonsdale, according to Coun. Holly Back. “We definitely are going in the right direction.”
A new school could be located in a development, Back suggested. “It might be a far-out idea, but if we could get maybe a smaller (school) space in one of the amenity spaces in some of these condos – if that’s where the kids are actually living.”
The North Vancouver school district closed nine schools between 2004 and 2012.
The money the district made from sales – at least in part – was due to council’s work of “creating new value” in the city, according to Coun. Craig Keating. “I think it’s up to the school system, the province, to acquire new sites for schools,” he said.
In recent years the school district sold Ridgeway Annex for $5.1 million as well as school board property worth $9 million, but the majority of those funds were immediately funneled into the rebuild of Sutherland secondary and heritage restoration work at Queen Mary and Ridgeway, according to school district treasurer Georgia Allison.