St. Mary’s school open house falls short

Parents from John Robson elementary expected more than what they got at an open house on the new elementary school to be built at the former St. Mary’s Hospital site.

Construction on the $13.4 million building that will house 550 students from kindergarten to Grade 5 is expected to begin this fall with a scheduled opening in early 2014. When it’s done, John Robson’s students will move down Royal Avenue into the new school, so its parent advisory council had more than a passing interest in seeing what the school district had in mind. But when they arrived at city hall last Wednesday they found out little they didn’t already know.

“It was somewhat of a surprise. We thought there would be more interaction, discussion,” said Robson PAC chair Serena Trachta. “It was very basic information. We expected more at this presentation because the process has moved forward.”

Last week, the district said three companies had been invited to produce design-build concepts for the projects.

Trachta said the questions the district asked for feedback on at the open house were vague.

“They didn’t take into consideration any ranking or prioritization. It was very rudimentary,” she said.

She said the parents would like to know what criteria the design companies are being given.

“We’d like to know how is their latitude limited and what guidelines are they being given ... so that we can see if there’s an area where we as parents can contribute,” said Trachta. “At this point we find it hard to contribute in a constructive way because we’re shooting in the dark, we don’t even know what they’ve been asked to do.”

Trachta believes the parents could be a big help in the process.

“We could be a beneficial partner or advocate for different portions of the school that we are very passionate about, and we could leverage resources with the district to make it the best school possible.”

Trachta said the majority of parents support a new school because Robson needs to be replaced. But there’s also a great deal of concern about the distance the children will have to travel to the new school and the safety issues surrounding having to cross Royal.

She said in a recent PAC survey, which got a response rate of 30 per cent, 66 per cent of parents said they walk their children to Robson while 34 per cent drive. Only about 46 per cent would continue to walk them to the new site while 38 per cent say they would drive leaving a large percentage still undetermined because of the safety concerns.

The design proposals, however, do not deal with safety, and Trachta said it’s confusing trying to figure out who is responsible for addressing that. In some places it’s the school district, others it’s the city or TransLink because Royal Avenue is a regional truck route.

The companies selected to develop concepts are Bouygues Building Canada of Vancouver, DGS Construction of Surrey and Yellowridge Design Build from Port Moody. After the ‘St. Mary’s’ school is completed, work will begin on a $17.6 million west side middle school where John Robson now sits.

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