October 13, 2017

Childhood education reaches for the sky

Vancouver opens first ever four-storey elementary school in B.C.

By Anne McMullin

“Grow up, not out.” Metro Vancouver’s rising land costs have forced city planners, developers, architects and engineers to think creatively by using this concept to maximize space for housing, services and community amenities to support surging population growth.
Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the downtown core of the City of Vancouver, where the Crosstown Elementary School became the first school in B.C. to be built up— four storeys up, to be exact, above a parkade.
With its bright, colourful, yellow-and-blue accents resembling Lego blocks, the school located at 55 Expo Blvd. is a distinctive addition to the urban neighbourhood.
The first school to be built in the downtown area in about a decade, Crosstown Elementary welcomed its inaugural class of 510 students in September. Nearby, existing elementary schools were already bursting with no room for expansion, thanks to the many new families with children living in the highrises of International Village, Chinatown, Gastown, Yaletown and Northeast False Creek. They will be joined over the years by additional new residents as homes are built on the Concord Pacific and Plaza of Nations Expo 86 sites as well as the area that will be freed up by the demolition of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.
The project cost was nearly $20 million, primarily funded by the province with some contributions from the Vancouver School Board and City of Vancouver. A $2.1-million developer payment was contributed to the City of Vancouver toward this project.
The school will make use of the adjacent Andy Livingstone Park playground, artificial turf field and outdoor play spaces on elevated terraces in the building itself so students will have plenty of areas for physical exercise.
Constructed by ITC Construction Group, the LEED Gold building features approximately 48,000 square feet (4,464 square metres) of classroom space, including multi-purpose rooms for before- and after-school daycare and community rentals. The innovative design has already won a 2017 Silver Award from the Vancouver Regional Construction Association. Some poignant recognition came when the children attending the daycare next door sent the developer a “thank-you” card for building their future school.
Vancouver isn’t the only city that has experienced school shortages in growing communities. Surrey has seen rapid population growth with many students housed in portables as a result. UDI recently joined forces with the grassroots Surrey Schools Coalition that successfully lobbied the previous provincial government for $217 million to fund new schools and 5,200 new K-12 student seats. I was proud to support this initiative. For that, I was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. This certificate, hung proudly on my wall, reminds me of one of the most important investments of all: our children and our future.
Community building requires innovation to leverage publicly invested funds and developer contributions by building up, from housing to schools to recreational facilities and more.
Airspace we have plenty of; land, not so much.

Anne McMullin is president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute, an association of the real estate development industry, which supports more than 220,000 B.C. jobs plus billions of dollars in economic activity. Through municipal fees and contributions, the industry funds the construction of daycare centres, social housing, parks, public art, museums, schools and community centres throughout BC.

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