What’s Happening with the Yellow School House?
As of August 2017, the Vancouver School Board has retained and renovated the Gordon outbuilding, also known as the Yellow School House, which was to have been demolished in spring 2016, for use by the school. VSB analysis of the BCTF class-size settlement indicates the school may require an extra classroom for 2018/19, which will be provided by the renovated outbuilding, instead of adding a portable classroom. The outbuilding is now brown instead of yellow.
The PAC executive wrote several times to VSB to express our belief that the outbuilding or the space it occupies should be used to benefit the Gordon community, and that VSB has a duty to inform and consult with the Gordon community before committing to any particular usage, so that parents can express their views. After nearly four years, we received an acceptable proposal to renovate and use the outbuilding for the direct benefit of the Gordon community, instead of demolishing it. If you are the parent of a Gordon student, you can let the PAC executive know your views by writing respectfully to gordonpac [at] ymail [dot] com (note: ymail not gmail).
Summary of Relevant Events
- Before the seismic update of Gordon, the outbuilding was leased by a Montessori pre-school. They had a small playground in front of it, with wooden play equipment in the shape of a boat, which was much-used by the community outside pre-school hours.
- The seismic update plan originally said the outbuilding would be moved to 6th Ave to reduce traffic problems on 7th Ave, but that was found to be very expensive, since the building would need hazardous material abatement and bringing up to code. Moving the building off site entirely was found to be even more expensive, since the building would need hazardous material abatement and then slicing into three sections to pass under overhead cables.
- In the summer of 2013, the seismic update plan was changed to say the outbuilding would be demolished and the Montessori accommodated inside the new school, using early learning space. PAC accepted that and the temporary relocation of our children to Queen Elizabeth School for two years because we did not want to delay getting into a safe school. The new plan recorded in the VSB Planning and Facilities meeting agenda was approved by the VBE trustees in July 2013. A heritage group objected to the planned demolition of the outbuilding at that time, as shown by their presentation recorded in the meeting agenda.
- VSB allowed the Montessori pre-school to stay during the demolition of old Gordon and building of new Gordon, right up until spring 2016, a few weeks before demolition of the outbuilding was to start.
- Then various heritage groups objected to the demolition.
- The VBE trustees delayed the demolition so proposals could be made to save the outbuilding. PAC accepted that on condition the opening of new Gordon was not delayed. The trustees included that condition in their motion allowing proposals, and the opening was not delayed. The Montessori pre-school re-opened in the new main school building.
- The outbuilding was fenced off, its playground was cleared, and a row of plum trees was cut down to allow the BC Hydro poles to be moved so the north/south laneway could be widened. The widening has only been done so far on the north side to create the staff carpark, containing nine of the planned 12 parking spaces, leaving three that might be built on the south side if the outbuilding is demolished, but with plenty of space remaining for more playground.
- VSB received various proposals, and as it turned out, rejected three and entered negotiations with one group. PAC heard no details from VSB due to commercial confidentiality. No proponents consulted with PAC.
- Towards the end of September 2016, PAC heard rumours that the proposed use was as a private school for grades K-2 or K-3. Most parents the PAC executive talked to had practical objections to this, and many had objections of principle also. Older students need much more space than pre-schoolers, and why should private school students be allowed to take the limited space of public school students without providing any benefit to the Gordon community? At that time, VSB was proposing several school closures, which would have provided plenty of alternative space for a private school to lease.
- PAC wrote to the VBE trustees on September 27 and September 28 to express our concerns and find out more, and engaged in conversation with trustees Penny Noble and Christopher Richardson. They were not able to comment on any details.
- Then the elected trustees were fired by the Minister of Education.
- At the November 28 PAC meeting, it was agreed the executive would write again to the VBE official trustee, Dianne Turner. A letter was sent January 5.
- At the January 23 PAC meeting, the matter was discussed again, and the executive reported no response to the letter had been received yet. It was agreed the whole parent community should be informed of the situation, and possible further actions should be considered.
- On January 25, a response from Dianne Turner was received, saying no decision had been made yet and anticipating an update in February.
- On February 18, the promised update was received in the form of a report to VSB Committee II stating that all four proposals to use the outbuilding had been rejected and recommending that demolition proceeds. Dianne Turner will decide whether VSB should act on that recommendation. CBC published a news story on the matter, quoting former trustee Patti Bacchus.
- On February 20, the PAC executive wrote to all parents to advise them of the situation, and to Dianne Turner to support the recommendation to demolish the outbuilding and convert the space to playground. Vancouver Courier published a news story quoting Heritage Vancouver, PAC and VSB Facilities. Note the photos used by CBC and the Courier show happier times for the outbuilding. Our photo shows the state after the seismic update, including the stumps of the plum trees and the new hydro pole.
- On February 22, the VSB Planning and Facilities Committee met to discuss the VSB Facilities report recommending demolition, and to hear delegations. Our PAC co-chairs Victoria and Promita spoke in favour of replacing the building with green space and playground, and six other speakers opposed demolition on heritage grounds. Dianne Turner said VSB would meet again with heritage groups before deciding whether to proceed with demolition.
- On March 1, the PAC began collecting signatures on a petition to VSB. We spoke to parents, teachers and neighbours at drop off and pickup times on March 1, 2 and 3, and at drop off time on March 6. We collected 120 written signatures in that time.
- Vancouver Observer published an article by Patti Bacchus on how the outbuilding could be saved using the 'Green Thumb Theatre model' from Carleton Hall. No such benefactor has emerged in the nearly four years since demolition entered the seismic update plan in summer 2013. Gordon PAC exists to advocate for current and future Gordon students, and fundraises tirelessly for that cause. PAC has raised more than $80,000 for the new playground at Gordon, including a $7,000 contribution to a heritage project which VSB has not yet implemented. Thanks to all our many donors!
- Ingrid Sulston, a close neighbour of Gordon and past PAC chair, has written an inspiring description of the benefits of native plantings at Gordon. We can have a new Butterfly Garden with native plants regardless of the fate of the outbuilding.
- On March 6, VBE official trustee Dianne Turner attended our PAC meeting to bring parents up-to-date on the latest developments. Before the meeting, Ms. Turner toured the grounds near the school house, and parents and neighbours explained the problems caused by the disuse of the building and the possibilities for more play space. At the meeting, Ms. Turner said she had met with heritage representatives and had agreed to allow a not-for-profit arts organization until the middle of May 2017 to make a new proposal to use the outbuilding. The proponents would need to pay $300k to renovate the building and lease it for 10 years. If an acceptable proposal is not forthcoming, the building will be demolished, likely over the summer or spring break next year, at a cost to VSB of $58k.
- On March 13, PAC wrote to Dianne Turner, enclosing our petition to-date, and requesting to be consulted on any new proposal before VSB decides whether to accept or reject it..
- On May 17, the VSB Planning and Facilities Committee discussed a new report from VSB Facilities recommending the outbuilding be retained for school use, instead of being demolished or leased out, because the BCTF class-size settlement may require an extra classroom for 2018/19. The City would not require the lane-widening in this case, and no extra staff parking would be built, so all of the surrounding area would be landscaped, with a new access ramp, stairs and landing. VSB would pay the renovation costs of about $60k, but save about $200k previously budgeted for lane-widening and demolition.
- On June 5, we heard from DPAC that VBE official trustee Dianne Turner agreed with the recommendation to retain the outbuilding at the May 29 Board meeting. Our understanding was the renovation work would be done during summer 2017, but that was not confirmed.
- By August 31, the renovation work appeared to be mostly finished. The outbuilding is now brown instead of yellow, with pink doors, and grey steps and ramp. The surrounding grounds have been seeded with grass, and remain fenced off. Some reseeding of the grass field remains undone.
- Currently, the outbuilding has been renovated for school use, after that sizeable part of Gordon's site was left unused for a full school year. Gordon's 2016/17 enrolment was about 380 students, and its maximum enrolment is about 450. Enrolment is expected to increase due to the new school building and the planned seismic update of nearby Bayview Elementary. Maximum enrolment may reduce due to the BCTF class-size settlement. Gordon's site is much smaller than the Ministry standard size for the number of students.
Last update 8:30pm August 31.