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Burnaby school district to explore 'tower school' option for town centres

Sites for new schools are needed in Brentwood, Edmonds, Lougheed and Bainbridge, but land is scarce, so the district says it will explore the idea of schools in highrises along with other solutions.
coal harbour school
An artist's rendering shows the Coal Harbour school, an elementary school planned inside a social housing complex in Vancouver.

Students in some of Burnaby’s highest density neighbourhoods could be going to school in condo towers in the future, according to the Burnaby school district.

In its most recent five-year capital plan, the district listed the need for land to build new schools in three of the city’s town centres (Brentwood, Edmonds and Lougheed) – as well as the planned new Bainbridge Town Centre.

Among the options for new schools in Brentwood, Edmonds and Lougheed are so-called “tower” schools, according to a report presented to the school board Tuesday.

It’s the first time the concept, which involves schools built at the base of residential towers, has been discussed publicly by the district – although trustee Larry Hayes alluded to past, “informal” conversations with city officials.

Secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill said the concept at this stage is “very very preliminary.”

“But it could very well be a strategy that the Burnaby school district is going to have to look at,” he told trustees. “Certainly they come into play more frequently at major centres where land is at a premium and you’re very limited on what you can do, so the concept is available for conversation.”

Horswill told the NOW a new long-range facility plan due in April will outline the options more clearly, so more concrete plans could be included in the  district’s next five-year capital plan.

When asked whether a tower school might make it into the next five-year plan, Horswill said, “I don’t know if it will go that far. Certainly the options available will be included in the (April) report.”

Not all of Burnaby’s town centres are equally challenged in terms of space for schools, according Horswill, who noted Lougheed and Edmonds have existing schools.

No so for Brentwood.

“There isn’t a school site in Brentwood, so it’s going to force conversations looking at potential options that exist,” he said.

Vancouver already has two hyper-urban elementary school projects: Crosstown, built atop an underground parkade, and Coal Harbour, planned for an 11-storey social housing complex on Broughton Street.

And Ontario announced in January it was helping fund the building of an elementary school inside a highrise in downtown Toronto.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
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