Province announces $62.3 million for rebuild of North Vancouver's Handsworth Secondary

Another new high school will soon be under construction in North Vancouver.

Education Minister Rob Fleming announced Monday that the province has approved $62.3 million to replace the 57-year-old Handsworth Secondary.

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The school will provide space for 1,400 students and will be built on the existing school site, on the west side of the property.

Construction on the new school is expected to start in 2019, with an anticipated opening of a new Handsworth in 2021.

The announcement of a Handsworth rebuild comes over two years after both Argyle and Handsworth were identified as being at high risk for serious damage in an earthquake.

Under the previous Liberal government, the province approved funding for what was then estimated at about $42.5 million for a seismic upgrade of Handsworth.

But the staff and trustees of the North Vancouver School District argued it made more sense to replace the entire school, which is almost six decades old.

Handsworth has also has an enrolment of about 1,500 students in a school built for 1,200.

Following the announcement in Handsworth’s school gym Monday afternoon, North Vancouver superintendent of schools Mark Pearmain said the shrinking gap between the cost of a seismic upgrade and a full replacement was likely a factor in the funding decision, along with additional space pressures from the restored teachers’ contract language.

In the long term, it would have cost the province more to do a seismic upgrade then continue to maintain an aging school than it would to build a new school, he said. “I think in the end that was a tipping point for them,” he said.

Considering the age of the building, “the last thing we really want to do is to be spending a whole bunch of money putting a new roof on or putting in a new boiler system,” he said.

Fleming echoed those thoughts. “There’s certain buildings where you’re putting in good money after bad,” he said, adding the existing Handsworth school has “served its purpose for a number of generations.”

Fleming said he was happy to be announcing a fully-funded replacement for Handsworth, contrasting that with the way an Argyle replacement, announced under the Liberal government, required the school district to kick in $11.4 million towards total costs of about $49 million. “There’s been a decade and a half of underinvestment in school infrastructure,” he said. “We think they are sound investments that are long overdue.”

Rupi Samra Gynane, principal at Handsworth, said she’s hopeful a rebuilt school will better reflect the kinds of courses popular today at Handsworth, like coding, robotics and performing arts – rather than courses like auto mechanics that were more popular in earlier generations.

Pearmain said the school district hopes to put a construction contract for the Argyle rebuild out for tender by the end of January and award a contract by mid March. “Ideally we’d see construction movement beginning this spring break,” he said. The target date for a rebuilt Argyle to open is spring 2020.

Mountainside Secondary – which houses the alternate high school programs in North Vancouver – is now the only school previously identified as having significant seismic risk that hasn’t received funding for a seismic upgrade in North Vancouver. Pearmain said the school district is “actively in discussions” with the ministry on getting that approval.

Mountainside was previously known as Balmoral, which opened in 1959 and functioned as a middle school and junior high school until it was closed by the school district in 2009. It reopened as Mountainside in 2013.

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