Richmond draws up school closure list
District faces shuttering handful of facilities from 16 on shortlist
The Richmond school district has named 16 elementary schools that will be considered for closure.
The district is faced with closing four or five schools due to declining enrolment and the need for seismic upgrades.
Similar tough decisions are facing many B.C. school districts — Vancouver is looking at closing as many as 21 schools over the next decade.
The government has said it won’t fund seismic upgrades unless districts are 95 per cent full. Right now, schools in both Richmond and Vancouver are using about 85 per cent of available space.
“It is important to recognize that being one of the 16 schools being considered for closure does not mean that a school is definitely going to close,” says a staff report prepared by Sherry Elwood, Richmond’s superintendent of schools, and Mark De Mello, Richmond’s secretary-treasurer. “The need to close schools because of the combined factors of seismic risk and declining enrolment will mean that difficult and unpopular decisions will have to be made.”
The report names 16 schools for the board to consider for closure: Blundell, Bridge, Diefenbaker, Dixon, Errington, Gilmore, Grauer, Lee, Maple Lane, McKay, McKinney, Mitchell, Quilchena, Thompson, Whiteside and Woodward. The list was compiled after looking at all Richmond elementary schools and analyzing whether students could be accommodated at other schools within a threekilometre radius.
Vancouver has not yet named any schools for closure, although two annexes have closed as parents decided not to register their children at the small schools.
Many schools not on the Richmond list are in the city’s downtown area, the Steveston area and the northeast area, where schools are fuller and there is not enough space within a three-kilometre radius to accommodate students from a closed school. Twenty-one schools did have enough space in nearby schools, but, of those, five do not need seismic upgrades so they were removed from the list, resulting in the 16 schools to be considered for closure. Richmond has 38 elementary schools.
In each of the 16 schools slated for possible closure, a committee will be established to look at the ramifications. Schools on the list with the most empty seats are Grauer, Woodward, McKay and Lee.
Schools on the list with operating costs per student that are significantly above the district average are Woodward, McKay, Grauer, Quilchena and Thompson. The report also considers the costs of seismic upgrades and finds that the most expensive upgrades would be at Grauer, Gilmore, Woodward, Thompson and Bridge.
Some of the schools are home to district-wide programs like French Immersion and Montessori, which are considered portable and could be moved. Schools with a high number of students from outside the neighbourhood include Whiteside, Dixon, Bridge and Gilmore — all are home to French Immersion.
No secondary schools are on the possible closure list and De Mello said in an interview it is unlikely any secondary schools will close because none of them need seismic upgrades.
The public had two main things they wanted the board to consider with school closures — that students could walk to school within 15 minutes and that students would be in structurally safe schools, De Mello said. He said the board hasn’t developed criteria for winnowing the list down to four or five, but other factors may come to light during the public consultation process. For example, he said, if all other factors are equal, a school in a low socio-economic area — where people rely more on public transit — might be saved, rather than a school where people can afford cars.
In Vancouver, the school board has passed a motion that says it won’t sell any land if schools are closed. Richmond has not passed a similar motion, but it has not yet considered what might happen to the properties if schools are closed. A few years ago, Richmond sold the property where Steveston secondary had been for $41 million to Polygon Pacific Homes. Any money from school properties must be used to build new schools or upgrade existing schools, although the provincial government pays for seismic upgrades. De Mello said the potential real estate value would not be a determining factor in whether a school would be closed.
Public meetings will be held in May and staff will make recommendations to the board in September. A final decision will be made in October about which schools will close.
Closures would take effect on June 30, 2017.