When high school students moved into a brand new Ecole Handsworth Secondary in February, they traded a 60-year-old school for a state-of-the-art $65.7-million building full of modern classrooms and labs.
But athletes at the school also lost something in the change – usable outdoor space including a track, an outdoor sports field and basketball court.
Parents say they’re concerned Handsworth kids won’t be getting much of that space back anytime soon unless changes are made, putting them at a disadvantage compared to athletes at other North Vancouver high schools.
“It’s not really fair to the kids at Handsworth to not have a field,” said Carmen Jensen, co-chair of the Handsworth parent advisory council. “Our kids deserve to have outdoor spaces they can use.”
Parents push for artificial turf
Parents are now asking that the school district and the local municipality get together to fund an artificial turf field at Handsworth – the same way they are doing for the new Argyle Secondary, which was finished a year ahead of Handsworth.
Outdoor spaces are currently under construction at Argyle and plans include an artificial turf field along with a sport court and basketball court. Windsor, Sutherland and Carson Graham secondary schools also have usable outdoor fields, said Jensen.
“We should make sure all the schools have a similar outdoor space,” said Jensen.
Currently, the plans for Handsworth include a regular grass field, which will be installed on the site of the former school building once it is demolished.
Grass not ideal for athletics
But a grass field isn’t ideal for athletics, said Jensen. “A grass field is really delicate,” she said. In the past, “a lot of times it would be closed,” she said – meaning kids couldn’t use the field for practice.
“It also had to be closed whenever there was frost, snow or frozen conditions. Students were not able to practice, play games or do physical education on the field,” said Jensen.
She said a lot of parents just assumed an artificial turf field would be installed as part of the new Handsworth school. “They are shocked to hear this is not the case.”
There are also currently no plans to replace the eight-lane track at Handsworth that was demolished to make way for the new school construction.
Currently athletes at Handsworth are commuting to other fields on the North Shore – from Mountainside to Fen Burdett – to continue their athletics.
Jensen said parents are asking both the school district and the District of North Vancouver to make construction of a new turf field at Handsworth a priority.
No budget for turf field at new Handsworth
But the lack of any provincial funds towards artificial turf is a sticking point, said Chris Atkinson, assistant superintendent of the school district.
“All of the builds in the last 20 years have required a partnership to complete the outdoor spaces,” he said – usually with one of the two local municipalities. “We don't have a lot of control over that,” he said.
The Sutherland artificial turf field was replaced by the City of North Vancouver in the summer of 2020, and minor improvements including track repair and relining of the running lanes occurred at the same time, according to the school district.
The school district is also still finalizing an agreement with the District of North Vancouver for the artificial turf field at Argyle, said spokesperson Lisa Dalla Vecchia.
Meanwhile, plans for the school district and the district to partner on a future running track at Handsworth have been put on hold and are not included in the municipality’s five-year financial plan.
Jensen, along with representatives of youth soccer and girls field hockey programs spoke to district council on Monday evening, urging them to support an artificial turf field.
Mayor Mike Little said the district has been adding more artificial turf fields over time.
Adding lighted fields in residential areas also involves neighbourhood considerations, he said.
“The district does maintain 54 field sports fields. We already have a very high level of sports opportunities in the community,” he said. “We obviously all value it deeply and would like to see more but it is costly.”