Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Official Opening! University Highlands Elementary School

It's not often that I spend Tuesday morning in a school gymnasium with Andrew Petter, George Abbott and Derek Corrigan listening to 175 children singing a song. But that's what happened this past Tuesday as hundreds of public officials, proud parents, and local residents gathered to hear the ringing of school bells to celebrate the official opening of the first new school at UniverCity.

As one of the onlookers said to me, it's gratifying to see a dream come true.

Here's the story.

While there is much talk these days about the City's Olympic Village in South East False Creek, many people forget about the City's highly successful first phase redevelopment of the South Shore of False Creek which began in the 70's. I worked on this new community as the Federal Government's Special Coordinator. To ensure a broad social and economic mix, it too had a high level of social engineering. In order to attract families to what had been a derelict industrial area, the city planners included a school as part of the intial phase of development. If you take a look, it was designed to look not unlike the adjacent housing development, the False Creek Cooperative.

Twenty five years later, when I was appointed President of the SFU Community Trust, I wanted a new school to be an integral part of the new community at SFU, and built as part of the first phases of development. I was convinced that this would help attract new families and contribute to the sense of a complete community.

During the initial planning charrette when three different architectural teams developed conceptual plans, it became obvious to me that the best location for the new school had unfortunately already been taken.... by the East Academic Anex, part of the university. However, as one of my early professors once suggested, "If you have a mistake, make a feature of it".

In this case, I decided to approach the university administration with the proposition that the building be converted to an elementary school. I suggested this might accelerate the timing of the school, and contribute to the community's proclaimed 'sustainability', since the most sustainable building is one that is already built!

As you can appreciate, this led to a lot of head scratching and complex negotiations involving the Minister of Education, the Minister of Advanced Education, the City of Burnaby and its School Board and many others. But where there's a will there's a way, and while it took a lot longer than I would have liked, thanks to the efforts of MLA Harry Bloy and many, many others, the school opened this fall with 175 students. At the opening, Greg Frank, with whom I worked many hours on the school planning advised me that there is already a need to think about expansion!

UniverCity has been founded on four cornerstones of sustainability: environment, economy, equity Now the fourth cornerstone has been realized. Congratulations to Gordon Harris, President and CEO, and David Gillanders, Chair of the Board of Directors for making it all happen. And thanks to former President Michael Stevenson and all those university officials who didn't do their best to get me fired when I suggested converting much needed academic space into an elementary school!

ps...The if you look at the two illustrations above, you'll observe that the elementary school, including its signage, is quite similar to the conceptual drawing prepared by Paul Nowarre ten years ago...although there is a slight change in the name of the school!


susan said...


This is so gratifying and congratulations to all involved.

When the VSB talks about closing schools, without any innovative thinking or planning the only people who suffer are our children, who DESERVE, the best education we can give them, wherever that may be.

And thanks to Greg Frank for thinking ahead about expansion; this will guarantee a future education of our children.

Susan Weiss

Theresa said...

It is so nice to have this new wonderful school. It would be even better if the kids had a playground. Please vote for us!
Great school, but the kids have no playground. Please vote for us so our kids have somewhere to play.

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