Supporters hope to save 111-year-old Vancouver schoolhouse from demolition

The yellow schoolhouse has been a part of Vancouver's Kitsilano community for over 100 years. Community members are rallying to save it from demolition. (Glyn Lewis - image credit)
The yellow schoolhouse has been a part of Vancouver's Kitsilano community for over 100 years. Community members are rallying to save it from demolition. (Glyn Lewis - image credit)

Surrounded by metal gates with construction vehicles rumbling by, the bright yellow schoolhouse at Henry Hudson Elementary on Vancouver's west side is on the verge of demolition.

Supporters hope to convince the Vancouver School Board (VSB) to consider ways to save the 111-year-old building, located on the corner of Maple Street and Cornwall Avenue, from the wrecking ball.

"It's a well-maintained, charming little schoolhouse, and it would [be] tragic if it was demolished, both from an environmental perspective and from a community character perspective," said Glyn Lewis of Renewal Home Development, who is pushing to have the school repurposed and relocated to another community.

Lewis said he heard about the schoolhouse last month through social media, and is now negotiating relocation with the VSB.

Lewis and parents of the school are calling on the VSB to approve the building's move and to set a precedent in the preservation of older buildings.

"Demolition should always be the last option," said Lewis, adding they're in discussion with two First Nations to potentially repurpose the building as a child-care centre or a duplex.

"It's been a staple of the community for over 100 years. Generations of students and parents have gone through the building."

Hudson Child Care Society, a non-profit preschool and after-school program, operates out of the schoolhouse, which is not registered as a heritage building.

According to Lewis, the schoolhouse is impeding seismic upgrades happening at the main school building and schoolhouse operations have been told to leave by March 31 for demolition.

Glyn Lewis
Glyn Lewis

"Demolition-first paradigm'

Lewis said that before considering demolishing a structure, developers and builders have three other options: infill or build around it, relocate and repurpose it, or deconstruct it to salvage materials.

"It's too easy for a lot of building owners to skip right to demolition because it's the easy, fast option," he said, adding in Metro Vancouver nearly 2,800 well-maintained homes end up in landfills.

"[These homes] could be lifelines to someone who needs housing somewhere else."

He said the VSB went through the consultation process to infill the building, but deemed it unviable.

Instead of considering relocation, Lewis says the VSB "skipped right to demolition."

"Hopefully [this project] will help us move away from this demolition-first paradigm," he said.

In a statement, the Vancouver School Board said they are awaiting a demolition permit to complete the reconstruction for a seismically-safe school.

"Following hearing from a business owner about possibly relocating the yellow school … staff are reviewing the proposal to determine if it is feasible," the school board said, adding the child-care program will be moved into the newly constructed school.

Part of the neighbourhood

Heidi Birk, whose son went to preschool at the schoolhouse, said the building adds life and character to the neighbourhood.

"The schoolhouse is a very special building … with these amazing nooks and crannies. It's got a bit of magic to it," she said.

Birk worries demolition of the school doesn't set a good example for kids on how to be sustainable.

"They'll see us as this generation exemplifying wastefulness," she said.

"If that school was an appropriate place for them to play one day, how can it only be worthy of being smashed the next day?"

Olga Nardy, co-chair of the Henry Hudson Elementary parent advisory council, worries about the damage demolition projects will have on the environment.

"Homes that cannot be repurposed, there's still material that can be used to build other homes."

She says her son currently attends the yellow schoolhouse for after-school care, and she hopes it can be shown more love in a new community.

"It's lovely that [this situation] is now coming to light … The first option [needs to] be to find a new home for this building," said Nardy.