Vancouver Schools- Kitsilano Senior Secondary

Credit: Derek Von Essen


Historic Kitsilano Senior Secondary School faces demolition at the hands of an opportunistic school board using provincial seismic upgrade funding for building replacement. Kitsilano’s school is emblematic of dozens of older Vancouver schools facing a similar fate.

Why it matters:

Vancouver’s historic schools are neighbourhood landmarks which represent a variety of architectural styles and development periods. Located at the heart of each neighbourhood, they are, in many cases, the largest, most significant and meaningful heritage landmarks in these communities. Opened in 1926, Kitsilano Senior Secondary was built on an impressive scale that demonstrated the high value placed on public education. Designed by Vancouver School Board (VSB) staff architect Frank A. A. Burns in the Collegiate Gothic style, the school was naturally lit with large operable windows and features grand stairways and entries, high ceilings and broad hallways. A Modernist-style addition was erected in 1958.

Why it’s endangered:

Since 2005, the British Columbia Ministry of Education’s Seismic Mitigation Program (SMP) has provided a pool of money to ensure that school environments are made safer from earthquake damage. The Ministry applies a funding formula that limits the cost of a seismic retrofit to 70% of the cost of constructing a new school, giving unfair advantage to new schools which usually provide significantly less square footage per-student compared with  historic schools.

The intent of this funding is being distorted by the VSB which is taking this opportunity to build new, rather than upgrade existing schools. The board has stated that heritage is not high on its list of priorities, as it has already demonstrated by sending Sir Charles Dickens School to the landfill in 2008 using SMP funds.

There has been minimal neighbourhood consultation to date on renewal plans for Kitsilano Senior Secondary. In February 2010, the VSB released its preferred concept design for the school at a public open house. This concept would retain only the front and side façades and send the rest of the interior and the 1950s addition to the landfill.

Vancouver heritage groups point out that the VSB has yet to develop a comprehensive plan for seismic upgrade of their portfolio of schools. There appears to be a different set of rules for each individual school, rather than a coordinated approach. The VSB also refuses to recognize alternative methods of achieving seismic compliance. In other parts of BC, schools have been sequentially emptied and seismically upgraded, resulting in minimal disruption to students and no demolition.

Where things stand:

Vancouver’s historic schools are in peril. On July 5th the Vancouver School Board unanimously approved a plan for demolition of Kitsilano Senior Secondary in its entirety, save for the 10th Avenue facade and selected windows, doors and hand railings. The provincial government and the City of Vancouver must approve this option. Heritage Vancouver and others have come out strongly against it. If the province grants approval in the fall of 2010, construction could begin by mid-2012, with a completion date by the end of 2016.

This site was nominated by Heritage Vancouver.

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

Top 10 Endangered Places List: 2010

Status: Positive Outlook

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