Educational Facilities Review, Meeting Reports January 14-18, 2008

Public consultation meetings were held this past week at University Hill Secondary, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth Annex, Jules Quesnel and Queen Elizabeth Main School. This entry contains meeting summaries provided by concerned parents who attended these meetings.

University Hill Secondary -January 14, 2008

The public meeting yesterday at U-Hill last night went well. Jill, Charles, Birgit and other dedicated souls have already spent much time addressing the EFR report. U-Hill parent response is varied. Generally among us there appears to be: (1) great support for most of the proposals; (2) recognition that most options have been explored over many years; (3) acceptance that the EFR report may offer the best opportunity to address significant issues regarding needed school facilities in our area; and (4) concern over the proposed Queen Elizabeth Annex closure.

Queen Mary Elementary School, VSB EFR public meeting – January 15, 2008

It was a small turnout – about 14 parents, in addition to trustees Al Blakey, Eleanor Gregory and Shirley Wong, DMT members Gary Little, Val Overgaard and Henry Ah-King (Chris Kelly and some of the other DMT folks and trustees were at the annex meeting which was going on at the same time), principals from several other schools (Uhill Elem, Shaughnessy and ?). This may have been due to short notice of the meeting and vagueness of how QM would be affected by the eventual downsizing (could lose up to 50% size of the school, which could mean things like the loss of the VP, full-time librarian, two district MAC classes, loss of opportunity for the estimated 50 Queen Elizabeth catchment kids who choose to attend QM to continue doing so etc., not to mention further delays of up to five years for the seismic upgrade that was originally scheduled to start in July 07).

A consultant ran the meeting, deferring questions to Val, which she, Gary and Henry answered.

The meeting started with the power point. It was followed by the Q & A –

Q: QM parents thank you for consideration of a set of difficult problems. These two school buildings have heritage B value. What are the plans for QM seismic upgrade given that the QM PAC survey conducted in May/June 07 showed overwhelming support for red building to be saved in some shape or form? What exactly is meant by seismic upgrade? If there is a space reduction, has any thought been given to shifts in demographics? By 2031, a million more people are predicted to be living in the lower mainland.

A: Henry Ah-King: We are undertaking feasibility study for QM. Results are expected by the end of Jan and we should have a better picture of what can be done. Some decisions regarding overall parameters — recognize red building has heritage value but may not get full funding for renovation.

Need to reduce school capacity to match student numbers. The likely scenario is the gray building would be considered surplus and perhaps available for alternative use (priority order would be prov gov’t, then community, then marketplace) — possibly joint community use.

Henry noted that in QM catchment the rate of students NOT choosing to “participate in public schools” is double the district average.

Q: When planning for future, you must plan for population wave. It is wrong the sell a school to take funds from the City of Vancouver and put them into UBC lands. UBC should pay for total costs of new school. UBC endowment lands already significantly subsidized by City of Van.

Q: Thanked staff for all the time they’rer putting into meetings etc. Noed that many parents wanted more information about role of VSB, MoE and UBC in negotiating and any other options that had been available, and whether it was true that UBC Properties Trust has proposed providing a renovated, turnkey building and if so, what would the terms have been of such an offer? Also, what is the length of the $1/year lease at the NRC building and what assurance do we have for long-term security of the site? Commented that parents had been asking why Dunbar is being called upon to solve a problem created by UBC’s planning and noted that the “Dunbar to UBC study area” is a VSB creation that does not otherwise exist.

A: Henry said UBC offered a turnkey building with a 30-year payback plan. The MoE declined as they did not want to carry debt on books and saw no advantage as payback payments would have to come through operating grants (?). MoE instructed VSB to use “innovative” solutions for a different financial arrangement.

Lease term is 99 years. Site zoned only for use as a school.

Q : How will the Phase I plan affect Queen Mary’s timeline for seismic upgrading? QM was supposed to be a “fast-track” school, yet looking at the timelines it appears it could be at least five years before it will be upgraded.

A: Henry: Earliest start is 2009. More likely summer 2010. (Doesn’t actually jibe with printed materials which indicate much longer time lines as the plan is to wait for the sec and elem schools at UBC to be up and running and UBC students at QM sent there before QM can start work).

Q: What will a downsized QM look like for parents — facilities (library, art room, music), staffing (VP, librarian etc)?

A: Gary Little: Greatest gain is safety. Great sense of connectiveness to smaller schools (he acknowledged that is an argument that will likely be made by QE annex folks). May lose non-enrolling space, small meeting areas etc. Said that is school goes under 400 for two years, VP position is lost.

Q : Suggested that personal preference for a “choice” program would be to provide a Centre for Excellence for Learning Disabilities to support all kids with LD in the Phase I area so those students would finally have the “choice” of having their learning needs met in their local public schools.

Q: Parent of a grade 6 student in MAC program: Will there be changes to the MAC program (spoke about value and importance of program and its connection to the school and the community)?

A: Henry: talked about “opportunities to satisfy MoE” by reducing classroom space…a lot of answers will come through seismic process etc.

Q: Asked if students from QE catchment who now attend QM will be able to continue doing so.

A: Val: We will try to mitigate against disruption to students — part of the plan is to start that planning with families to plan for the least disruption possible.

Q: Each year at Sept start up we have disruption when VSB does not fund enough staff positions to deal with unexpected numbers of students arriving at the school doors — will there be a commitment to fund appropriatly and reduce the disruption that comes with reorganizing classes when staff is added later?

Gary: Said he’s lived through this stuff and it’s even harder to reduce staff if expected numbers don’t show up. Said he would present this concern to HR.

Q: Question about consideration of partnerships, especially in light of preliminary results of Point Grey Visions Survey that indicate strong support for relocation of community centre to a more central area. Also strong support for increased densification. Also referred to need for after-school care, daycare, providing flexibility for future growth. Also noted he’d been advised by a city councillor that the city planned to increased density in areas were there are surplus services, including space in schools. Is the VSB talking to the city?

A: Val: Yes.

Henry: Have not yet approached potential stakeholders. Park Board high on consultation list. Not allowed to include students not attending public schools in numbers.

VSB constantly in contact with city. Population growth not resulting in increase in kids (older people instead). Blamed price of real estate.

Q: : 50 QM students come from QE catchment. Should take into account that QM is a “destination school.”

A: Henry: when designing it must be to “in-catchment” — remember that some in-catchment students are going out of catchment to FI etc. It’s a trade off.

Gary said there is an average of 30 % of students attending schools out of catchment.

Q: Timeline — printed Phase I materials look like 2013 is earliest for completion. Very different from Henry’s prediction of possible 09 start.

A: Henry said they could look at alternative solutions for temporary accommodation to speed up seismic.

Q: Noted that UBC has not been selling property, but instead leasing it out long-term. Has the district considered “selling” the QE Annex as a long-term (prepaid?) lease? Why sell when that way the district would still have it for long-term use?

A: Henry: Sell means disposal…can also sell a 99-year lease.

Q: Another parent talked about the importance of keeping the MAC program

Meeting wound up by about 9:10 pm.

Lord Byng Secondary School -January 16, 2008

Initial impression—low turnout (30-40 people, filled room)

First speaker was Patti Bacchus (DPAC EFR Rep)-says she hasn’t made up her mind about proposal yet. She asked a series of good questions which mainly focused on the sale of QEA ex. could they instead “sell” a 99-year lease? Chris Kelly seemed like he had thought of that idea before and liked it.

Patti also questioned their capacity numbers: Does enrolment include international students? Answer: No. Does capacity include portables? Answer: Yes, (but the answer was still unclear.)

Eric Mazzi (QEA & JQ parent) spoke next: Handed out a document to VSB. His first issue was that Al Poettcker (of UBC Properties Trust) was a rep of UBC and in fact he could speak for UBC at the meeting (unlike what was said at QEA).

Mazzi’s second issue concerned UBC governance: There’s an official community plan (OCP) which is governed by Metro Vancouver (bylaw #840-1996), and a comprehensive community plan, (CCP, 2000).

  • The OCP commits that “an elementary school site of not less than 3.0 hectares will be sited on the South Campus.” It does not say it’s contingent on VSB funding or a building retrofit.
  • Pg. 41 of CCP: “provide an elementary school site of 3.0 hectares. The timing will depend on demand and avail. of funding. The VSB will determine the timing of construction of the new school.” (Pg. 63 contains additional details.)
  • The South Campus neighborhood plan states (p.13) “The NRC building will be retrofitted for the school facility. An elementary or a K-12 community school are options being considered by the VSB in consultation with the Provincial Ministry of Education and the UBC Faculty of Education. The school will be built in the first phase of construction of the neighborhood. If government funding for the school is not available at this time, UBC will build the facility. The University would lease the school to the VSB to operate the facility.” (This document is dated January 2005.)
  • [ Note: This undermines the argument that VSB needs the money for construction costs up front. UBC clearly has a commitment to build the school from this document, regardless of government funding.]

    Mazzi followed up with: “These plans all clearly indicate a timely commitment to provide school facilities, acknowledge the VSB’s role in defining requirements and operating the facilities… UBC has clearly made a commitment to provide a complete school facility. Therefore, why does VSB propose to sell QEA to pay for this school?”

    Chris Kelly’s response was that he was unaware of these documents, didn’t know what kind of legal authority they had, and didn’t know the details so he couldn’t respond immediately. He (sincerely) thanked Mazzi for his research.

    10-15 people asked questions after Mazzi.

    An economist challenged the VSB’s graphs—said they used well-known distortion techniques by altering the scale of the graphs and she challenged their stats re: declining enrolment based on her look at census. Also, the current pop. of UBC is expected to double by 2021, so even if you build the new schools up there, it won’t be long ‘til you’ll need to bus UBC students back to Dunbar/Point Grey again.

    Another audience member: Even if the UHill students go to the new schools on campus, other out-of-catchment students will quickly fill up those spaces b/c the Dunbar/Point Grey schools are outstanding, so they’ll always be at full capacity.

    A number of parents said QEA is a great school, it’s crazy to close it.

    Throughout the night, Chris Kelly kept saying that UBC was doing its fair share by providing the land and NRC building.

    I went last and asked Kelly to confirm that in his view a fairly standard practice was that a developer would provide land and maybe some other work product, while the province would cover the bulk of the capital costs. He confirmed.

    I asked him whether the province’s contribution in this case, 10 million out of 30 million in capital costs, was unusually low. He said yes, but the reason is that our capacity utilization is low in Vancouver and they don’t want to give us more money.

    I said great, let’s talk about capacity utilization. I asked him to be specific about how the province calculates capacity utilization, following up on Patti Bacchus, and Kelly confirmed that the numerator does not include international students, and the denominator does not include portables.

    I asked if the 95% capacity utilization target was common across all school districts in the province, and he answered yes.

    I explained that I have a Ph.D. in economics and I’ve done research in capacity utilization in manufacturing firms, and one thing we know is that the optimal capacity utilization rate should depend on a lot of variables. Most importantly here, we should consider the volatility of whatever we want to produce (students), the target growth rate, and the average off-line time of the capital equipment (schools) that we’re using to produce the goods.

    We need to consider how Vancouver is different from the rest of the province:

    First, we’re older, which means our schools are older. That means we’re going to have to take them off-line for maintenance more often than we would with newer ones, and that’s what’s happening with the seismic upgrade program. Also, our capital stock being older, it was not built as closely to today’s design guidelines. That implies we should have a lower target capacity utilization rate than other districts in the province.

    As for volatility, when population shocks hit the province, they tend to hit Vancouver first and hardest and then filter out to the rest of the province. So population growth in our neighborhoods is more turbulent and uneven than in other districts. This again implies that we should have a lower target capacity utilization rate.

    Kelly agreed that this was exactly right, and this is what he has to deal with everyday.

    I asked if he’s made these arguments to the province, and Kelly said he has tried. I asked if we could help him to make these arguments more effectively and he said yes.

    Last we discussed enrollment growth rates, and I referred to Fig. 6-8 of the EFR which projects a 10% growth rate of elementary enrolment over 5 years starting in 2011. Again, I argued that this means that Vancouver should have a lower target capacity utilization rate to accommodate this projected growth in school enrollees beginning in 2011.

    ***Meeting adjourns***

    Jules Quesnel Report

    Last night was JQ’s turn for the EFR (Education Facilities Review) public input. It was well attended, over 100 people from around the neighbourhood were there. Many had a chance to voice their opinions , ask questions and listen to responses from the senior management of the VSB.

    Although there were many voices in the crowd, the 4 main issues that were brought up were

    • don’t sell QEA / don’t close QEA
    • make UBC pay for the school as they had promised to / and maybe should.
    • both existing proposals (for JQ, a and b) call for possible increase of 8-10 kinder intake in FI with a wait list of 30-50 average per year. Not Enough
    • we realize the urgency with moving ahead vs standing still

    Other issues addressed

    • temp transportation options while JQ is at UHill
    • Day Care issues while JQ is at UHill
    • Issue that seismic does not allow for increased facilities.

      Starting next week, The JQ committee that is responsible for formulating a report to the VSB will start meetings at JQ. Each of you [JQ Parents] will be sent a schedule of the meetings and are welcome/requested to attend. Our committee mandate is to give feedback on the proposals , raise issues and give suggestions . From the discussions I have had with Superintendent Kelly, he has told me that these reports will be the basis with moving forward, and will impact what gets recommended to the school trustees. Our plan is to submit a report with option c,d and e with backup.

      In the mean time if anyone has the urge to voice your opinions following are the email contacts of the VSB trustees ……… feel free.

      Gord Maclean
      PAC Chair


      Handout prepared by Erric Mazzi for January 19, 2008 Download file