Last stand for North Van’s last junior high school
Two community groups are up in arms over the repurposing of the last junior high school left in North Vancouver.
On Feb. 21, North Vancouver School District 44 is expected to vote to allocate upwards of $3 million to prepare Carson Graham secondary’s Balmoral campus for its transition in June from a junior high to a home for adult education and alternative learning programs by September.
Those plans were formally announced at a Jan. 10 meeting of SD44 trustees.
But the news of the vote has sparked the formation of two neighbourhood groups — the formerly defunct Delbrook Community Association and the new Norwood-Queens Community Association.
Both are dedicated to fighting what they say is the school board’s transformation of their neighbourhoods without without first asking area residents or even North Van district council. And at least two council members agree with them.
“This largely is the result of the school board’s poor communication process,” Coun. Roger Bassam, who’s been following the issue closely, told The Outlook Monday. “That [Jan. 10] meeting they had was supposed to be a first step to sort of explain what’s been going on but it wasn’t a consultation. It was a ‘Here’s where we are.’”
Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn echoed his colleague’s assessment of the school board’s rollout of the Balmoral plans, calling SD44’s tactics “the decide, announce and defend approach.”
But school district spokeswoman Victoria Miles did indeed defend the board’s approach in a phone interview with The Outlook Monday.
“In terms of the extent to which the community expected to be consulted, there is maybe some variance between what their expectations were and what the board is required to do,” Miles said. “The fact that the community learning program is going into Balmoral, that decision won’t be revisited. I don’t know where the idea came from — perhaps within the community — that the decision could be revisited. It’s a final decision by the board and we’re now in the implementation phase.”
Miles said it’s the school board’s right to place its programs wherever it wishes, adding that the public is always welcome to attend board meetings and discussions.
Chief among those issues that Delbrook and Norwood-Queens residents say they would have liked to have been consulted on is how an influx of older students will impact their community.
The arrival of adult education and alternative high school programs will mean a lot more vehicles on the roads around Balmoral. And while the board said it will commission a traffic impact study in conjunction with North Van district engineers, the Delbrook and Norwood-Queens community groups say they have done informal counts and see no way that as many as three to four hundred more cars will safely find parking anywhere near the school.
“This will change the way our community was formed,” said Diedre Smith, president of the Norwood-Queens association in a phone interview with The Outlook. “We have quiet little streets, narrow streets without sidewalks because they weren’t expecting a whole bunch of traffic to come to a school in the middle of a neighbourhood.”
Delbrook Community Association spokesman Troy Vassos said his group has counted daily at least 250 cars parked outside the Lucas Centre for Continuing Education, where the adult education courses will continue until September. Add to that the alternative programs, he said, and the impact on the neighbourhood will be “catastrophic.”
Coun. Bassam said that, in his opinion, the smarter way to handle adult and alternative education programs is to offer the classes after hours at a number of different high schools, thereby mitigating traffic impacts on any one community.
But school board spokeswoman Victoria Miles said much of the backlash directed at the board’s shuffling of its programs is caused by prevailing stereotypes about continuing education students.
Calling for a “mindset shift” for all involved in the debate, Miles said it’s not possible or desirable for the school district to customize programs to suit a specific neighbourhood’s wishes.
“It’s unfortunate that sometimes an individual’s persepctive and an organization’s mandate may not be completely aligned, but we are hopeful that with improved understanding of the student population, and with everybody coming together, there’ll be greater acceptance that this is a final decision — that this is happening.”