Olympic Village elementary school plan inches forward but funding still up in the air

·2 min read
The City of Vancouver and the Vancouver School Board announced Wednesday they were working on a 99-year ground lease for the empty lot at 161 Columbia Street adjacent to Hinge Park, which was first identified as a potential school site in 2007.
The City of Vancouver and the Vancouver School Board announced Wednesday they were working on a 99-year ground lease for the empty lot at 161 Columbia Street adjacent to Hinge Park, which was first identified as a potential school site in 2007.

(Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The good news is a long anticipated elementary school promised for Vancouver's Olympic Village neighbourhood seems one step closer to reality with the announcement a lease is about to be signed to secure land for the project.

The bad news is funding for the school is not yet secured, meaning there's still no guarantee it will ever be built.

On Wednesday, the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver School Board announced they were working on a 99-year ground lease for the empty lot at 161 Columbia Street adjacent to Hinge Park, which was first identified as a potential school site in 2007.

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, provincial funding has to be in place and construction started no later than January 31, 2024.

Olympic Village resident and school advocate Lisa McAllister said she'd be more excited about today's news if there was confirmation the three political entities — school board, city council and the provincial government — were all moving forward together on the project.

"There's significant need for this school today," she said. "The announcement doesn't have impact for the people who live here now."

McAllister's daughter was 50th on the 2020-2021 kindergarten wait-list at catchment school Simon Fraser Elementary. Without a car, schools further away were not an option for the family so she is now homeschooling her five-year-old.

Olympic Village is home to many young families.
Olympic Village is home to many young families.

According to VSB chair Carmen Cho, if the January 31, 2024 construction start deadline is met, the school likely wouldn't be ready to open for another two years after that.

"I think this school getting built is a very high priority for the board as we have identified that children attending their neighbourhood schools is something that is very important to us," Cho said.

In last year's provincial election, the NDP campaigned on a promise of funding a school in Olympic Village, which may have helped flip the riding from Liberal incumbent Sam Sullivan to NDP newcomer Brenda Bailey.

In a statement to CBC, the Ministry of Education said it was "committed to providing a long-term solution for Olympic Village families."

The site for a school in Olympic Village was first identified in a 2007 city planning document.
The site for a school in Olympic Village was first identified in a 2007 city planning document.

"The VSB's five-year capital plan, submitted in June 2020, includes a request for a new Olympic Village school as the board's top priority for expansion. Ministry staff have reviewed that request, and will bring forward options as part of Budget 2021."

For years, people living in the core of Vancouver have faced lotteries and wait-lists at neighbourhood schools as more families move into the downtown and immediate surrounding area.

According to the Vancouver School Board, more than 300 students are currently wait-listed at 14 city schools for the 2021-2022 school year, up from 269 in 2019-2020.