Lower Lonsdale is getting schooled.
Alcuin College is set to move from St. Georges Avenue into new digs at 300 West Esplanade following council’s decision Monday, despite the misgivings of Coun. Pam Bookham.
The kindergarten to Grade 12 private school could exacerbate traffic snarls “on what is probably our busiest transportation corridor,” she said.
With the school’s enrolment set to swell from 82 to 195 over the next few years and a 208-unit residential development due to open at 255 West First St. and 260 West Esplanade, traffic impacts can’t be adequately anticipated, according to Bookham, the lone councillor to oppose the project.
“Increasingly, we are hearing about the impact of the densification of our city on the traffic flow and it’s not flowing very well.”
The school staggers class times, offers transit subsidies, and asks parents with older children to park a few blocks away from the school.
“This is a very difficult corner for any kind of operation,” noted Coun. Rod Clark. “But they’ve proven to me … they’ll be able to make this situation work.”
Coun. Don Bell was a little more noncommittal in his assessment.
“I hope for their sake it works out,” he said, adding that a school bus might be necessary if parents end up circling the block for empty spots.
The 40-foot high, 15,000-square-foot school will cover 89 per cent of its lot – leaving 10- and 20-foot setbacks on the site currently occupied by Hesp Automotive.
The school’s design doesn’t include a gymnasium, but students tend to use community centres and can play at nearby Waterfront or Semisch parks.
Alcuin College will likely work with city staff on a park plan that will either include a stewardship program or a financial contribution to improvements in Semisch Park, according to a staff report.
Turning the community into a classroom is a perfect fit for a neighbourhood that includes easy access to the Spirit Trail and SeaBus, according to Coun. Holly Back.
“All of the things that we’re offering down there … I think just go along with the philosophy of the school,” she said. “We talked about needing schools in Lower Lonsdale – I realize that was the public system – but this is a very good alternative.”
North Vancouver school district superintendent Mark Pearmain appeared before council in November to underline the need for a new school to accommodate the 250 neighbourhood students who make daily commutes to Larson, Braemar and Cleveland elementaries.
The waterfront area will likely need a kindergarten to Grade 7 school in five to eight years, according to Pearmain. Those plans are unchanged following council’s decision, according to school district spokeswoman Deneka Michaud.
Pearmain and Mayor Darrell Mussatto appeared to differ on location, with the mayor suggesting the school district reopen Cloverley and Pearmain advocating for a site surrounded by greater density.
A complication in the process is the Spirit Corner mural adorning the cinderblock wall of Hesp Automotive, which artist Jane Clark created to celebrate the 2010 Olympics and the creation of the Spirit Trail.
Clark has pushed for the preservation of her mural – possibly through photo reproduction.
“Any wall that’s near the Spirit Trail would be fine,” she said.
The mayor echoed Clark’s call.
“If there’s anyone who has a wall in the city that’s in a suitable location … if we could recreate that (mural) even in a smaller way, I think it would be a good thing.”
Despite expressing concerns over traffic at a recent public hearing, Coun. Linda Buchanan praised the school for offering a different form of education.
“That’s the beauty of British Columbia: we have choices within the system,” she said. “I’m excited to see an urban school within the Lower Lonsdale area.”
Plans for the school include landscaping to screen the underground parking and provide a buffer along the Forbes Avenue bike lane. The main access to the school would be off Mahon Avenue.