Last Friday, the roof of the brick building at Carleton Elementary School was damaged in a fire. Since 1896, Carleton has been a centre of community life in the Collingwood community, providing a great public education to students in a diverse and changing neighbourhood. The four buildings on the Carleton campus are the most important historic buildings in southeast Vancouver.
The Vancouver School Board officials has been naturally silent in the immediate aftermath of the fire — what it means for the children, teachers and staff when school starts on Sept. 6.
But there is an important question beyond that: What will happen to Carleton Elementary in the future?
Ordinarily, when a public building of such importance is damaged, we fix it or replace it.
The province self-insures the public buildings it owns, such as Carleton. It is more efficient for B.C. to pay out claims then to spend money on outside insurance. In Carleton’s case, after a VSB request, the province needs to deliver on the terms of its policy.
In recent years, Carleton children and parents have been through a lot, and they have been let down repeatedly by the provincial government.
In March 2005, the Liberal education minister made the province-wide seismic upgrade announcement at Carleton. However, no seismic upgrading was ever delivered. All of the students who were dragooned into participating in that pre-election photo-op have graduated from Grade 12, and the promise made to them has been broken.
In 2008, the roof of the original schoolhouse at Carleton was burned and damaged by vandalism. At the time, students had been learning in that building for 112 years, and it has been home to kindergarten students for several decades. The province refused to fix it, offering money only to tear it down.
The community and the VSB rallied together with Green Thumb Theatre to fix the roof, and the two out-buildings are now home to offices and rehearsal space for Green Thumb, a remarkable community achievement in the face of provincial indifference.
In 2010 and again in 2016, Carleton has also had to deal with the issue of school closures. A massive public campaign saved Carleton in 2010 and so far this summer, going door-to-door, we have received more than 5,000 petition signatures in support of Carleton, nearby Bruce Elementary and Gladstone Secondary.
And great public education has continued, thanks to teachers, staff, parents and students.
All of the full elementary and secondary schools, just as with the final list in 2010, are on the city’s east side. Carleton had more than 300 students last year, according to the VSB, with remarkable and much-needed school programs. Few schools with that level of enrolment have ever been shut.
And you only need to listen for a moment to the voices of the children of Carleton, of what their school and teachers mean to them, to understand its importance to their future and ours.
Ironically, our neighbourhood is seeing a massive increase in density and future school-age populations for Graham Bruce, Carleton and Grenfell schools. The Wall Centre Central Park adds more than 1,000 homes, Westbank is building a new tower at 5050 Joyce filled with three-bedroom units, and the Joyce Station Precinct Plan just passed by City Council triples the number of homes around the station.
Carleton has a cherished past, a wonderful present and can and should have an important future. This depends on the provincial government fulfilling its commitment to its policyholders — the children and parents of Joyce-Collingwood.
In 2008, Premier Christy Clark said: ”If you want a great education for your child, if you want to give them the best chance possible to succeed at a world-class university … send them to your local public school.”
Carleton Elementary — and nearby Graham Bruce and Gladstone — are the public schools she was talking about. If those words are to have any meaning, then the province, with an eye to the future, must fix or re-build the brick building at Carleton Elementary.
Don Davies is the NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver-Kingsway. Adrian Dix is the B.C. NDP Member of the Legislative Assembly representing Vancouver-Kingsway.
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