Urban Academy wants to grow up

Artist rendering of proposed expansion to Urban Academy private school at 101 Third Street. - City of New Westminster report
Artist rendering of proposed expansion to Urban Academy private school at 101 Third Street.
— image credit: City of New Westminster report

Like New Westminster, Urban Academy’s density is growing and it needs to find a way to house it.

The private school has submitted plans to the city to build an expansion behind its current base of operation at Third Street and Royal Avenue. The budget is $14.4 million, and includes the purchase of an eight-unit apartment building on Manitoba Street built in the 1950s.

It would be demolished to make room for the expansion.

The plan is to build a 44,600-square-foot facility next to historic Robson Manor, a 10,000-square-foot 1935 heritage house which Urban bought in 2006. It currently houses the school’s administration and early grades. The expansion would include an 8,900-square-foot gym, three storeys of classrooms and underground parking.

The school currently has 160 students from kindergarten to Grade 12. Grades 6 to 12 students, however, are taught in a space leased from the Royal City Christian Church at Sixth Street and Eighth Avenue.

Urban Academy estimates by the time the expansion is built it will have 250 students and will grow to 450 by 2022 with two classes per grade every school year.

“We’re growing and we’re outgrowing Robson Manor,” said Robson head of school Cheryle Beaumont, former New Westminster secondary principal and Langley school district superintendent. “We’ve met our enrolment targets every year for the last three years. Every year we’ve set to double the class we’ve doubled the class.”

Beaumont said the school has thrived because it appeals to families looking for a solid and rigorous education that is arts based.

“We’ve created a culture.”

She added its growth won’t necessarily be helped by the current discord in public education.

Urban Academy and the city will have to agree on a heritage plan that would retain and restore the exterior, and some interior elements of Robson Manor before the expansion can proceed. Heritage guidelines say the new building should be compatible, distinguishable and respectful of Robson Manor. A city staff report to council said the initial plans meet those criteria.

It also identified student drop-off and pick-up as an issue that needs to be addressed because 60 per cent of Urban Academy’s students live outside New Westminster.

The school is willing to provide the current tenants in the apartment building at least six months’ notice. It’s also willing to consider relocation compensation, rent reduction and relocation assistance.

The report by the school’s consultants said the expansion will be 70 per cent bank financed and 30 per cent from parent equity and a community bond.

A neighbourhood open house on the proposal is expected to be held either this summer or in the fall. A presentation will also be made to the Queen’s Park Residents Association. A public hearing isn’t likely to be held until late this year or early 2015.

An initial project schedule has construction starting in March 2015 and occupancy by August 2016.

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