Urban school model touted for Lower Lonsdale

Bill Vander Zalm was the B.C. premier the last time the North Vancouver School District opened a brand new school to serve a fast-growing enrolment area.

That was in 1990, with the completion of Seymour’s Dorothy Lynas elementary, which was spurred by a massive residential development in the area in the late 1980s.

Now, 26 years later, the school district is considering the need for another new elementary school, this time for Lower Lonsdale.

In late October, the school district submitted its five-year capital plan to the Ministry of Education that included a request for a new K-7 school. “It’s really a signal to the ministry that there’s potential for that Lower Lonsdale school and it also enables us to proceed with a little more formal discussions with the municipality and the ministry,” said John Lewis, schools superintendent.

The school district’s draft facilities 2015 update forecasts an additional 1,520 apartment units in Lower Lonsdale and 650 apartments/850 townhouses in Moodyville to 2029. Using yield factors of 0.28 to 0.33 students per townhouse and 0.05 to 0.08 students per apartment, that translates into 76 to 122 more students in the Lower Lonsdale area and 271 to 333 more students in Moodyville within the next 20 years.

“You want to have your schools where your population is. And I think the sense of Lower Lonsdale is that there’s a population that is having to head up the hill to Queen Mary and Ridgeway and they would be better served by having a school in closer proximity to them,” Lewis said.

The city’s Moodyville development is expected to attract more young families looking to get into the residential market and “that is typically when they start to have their first couple of children.”

“It’s a shifting of the demographics,” added Lewis, who said that collectively there’s been a “gradual enrolment increase” across North Vancouver.

Despite recent housing assessments that show North Vancouver to be increasingly unaffordable, it’s still highly desirable. “North Vancouver is a very attractive community; people (are) moving from the west side of Vancouver to North Vancouver attracted to the schools, the communities, the parks that we have, the access to recreation. So people are moving in.”

Although there haven’t been new schools built in a quarter century, there have been several rebuilds of existing schools that have, in some cases, doubled the school’s capacity, said Lewis.

The next step for a Lower Lonsdale school will be meetings between the city’s planning department and school district officials to discuss needs, locations and options – one of which Lewis described as the “urban school model.”

Lewis cited recent examples in Vancouver, like the new planned school near Yaletown that will be incorporated into a mixed-use building and have capacity for 60 kindergarten students and 450 children in grades 1 to 7.

“They are in a higher density community and you move away from a traditional single-storey or two-storey school. These have been around for hundreds of years but we have not had to do this in the past.”

Lewis said the ministry requires at least 10 years’ lead time for a project of this scope, which offers ample opportunity to discuss various options, from the traditional school on a separate piece of land model to locating a school within a mixed-use building with blended amenities and services, such as child care.

City of North Vancouver Coun. Linda Buchanan made a motion in October directing staff to work with the school district to continue planning for a new school to address future growth in Lower Lonsdale.

“We are seeing that young families are wanting to live in the city, and we want them here. You can’t a have complete community if you’re void of young families. This is a good thing for our community.”

Buchanan said recent headlines about the cost of real estate on the North Shore are reminders that single-family home ownership isn’t an option for most young families.

New developments in Lower Lonsdale and Moodyville will provide housing options for young families that are close to services, shopping, and active transportation, she added. “It’s a great place to be.”

Buchanan agrees there will be challenges moving forward with a new school, especially with high land costs, that will require out-of-the-box thinking.

“Urban schools are not really common but the days of building schools on a five-acre, 12-acre city block are probably in the urban setting long gone.”

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