Generational Wisdom Brings Urban Design Panel Support For New Harbourside School

480 Broughton St (DP-2020-00849 / RZ-2020-00063) – Coal Harbour Elementary School (Marina Neighbourhood Plan, Parcel 1.5)
It’s hard to believe this elementary school was first planned in 1990 (pg 22 & 36), back before Hannah and I had even stepped into a classroom. To say a lot has changed since then is an understatement, and the lack of snow this winter shows that’s true for our climate as well. That’s forced this building to be raised out of what is now a flood plain, and contributed to it being 8.6m taller than the 30m envisioned in the Coal Harbour Master Plan.

The evolution of city policy played a role too, as building heights on sloped elevations are now calculated from their lowest point rather than the highest. However, the biggest impact is due to the Vancouver School Board’s decision to allow BC Hydro to build the oil-free (pg 11) West End Substation underground near Nelson Park. That’s unlocked enough funding to build this school, and 60 social housing apartments, 20 more than originally envisioned. Of course, that also triggered this Urban Design Panel review.

So how can one prepare for a review of a response to an over two decade old plan? Well, if you were this firm, you simply bring in your founding partner, Order of Canada recipient, Richard Henriquez. The skill this brought managed to explain the site’s challenges in an exposition that was refreshingly brief. Though I momentary wondered if it was too short, when afterwards a panellist asked whether the applicants had a presentation to go through.

Naturally, this brevity generated some questions that were easily handled, as this project’s scope is actually smaller than it appears. It may seem like a large play area will be created, but like the relationship between Elsie Roy Elementary and David Lam Park, the green space atop the Coal Harbour Community Centre will act as the schoolyard. Unfortunately, just a small sliver of it will be upgraded, as the Park Board controls the remainder, and they have no plans to refurbish it.

That disappointed several panellists, but didn’t stop them from commending the seamless transition to the community centre and public realm. They believed more than enough amenity space had been provided to satisfy the new residents, and were happy to hear the school’s drop-off area was not located at the Broughton Street cul-de-sac. In their view, the effects on the neighbourhood were purely positive, as this community “jewel” also provides a 65-space daycare and hopes to implement an after school program too.

One member who recently finished a school in New Westminster themselves, seemed surprised this one would have operable windows, air-conditioning, and still reach passive house standards. In fact, there won’t be any fossil fuel used here, as heat pumps will be utilized instead, and vehicle parking will be handled through existing spaces in the community centre (pg 13). The daycare, school, and residences will all have their own individual elevators, but the school’s open staircase drew more positive attention.

The panel was similarly impressed that every home included a Juliet balcony, except for the accessible ones, which will have their own patio space. In every way this application seemed to exceed these volunteers’ expectations, and one noted they only had good things to say. Another pondered if the residential entry on Broughton could be more defined, which another echoed. Ultimately, neither felt these remarks needed to be included as an official recommendation.

The consensus was that, overall, there were no issues with the proposal, or the increased height, which made the chair’s last day in that role rather easy. A motion of support with no recommendations easily won their colleagues’ unanimous approval, which is probably welcome news for any Vancouver parent. Yet one doesn’t need to have or want children to recognize the importance of a good education, so make sure to express your wisdom and comments here, or at the Development Permit Board on March 22, 2021.

You can view more photos from this meeting here on our Instagram or in the UDP booklet.

Applicant Team Information:

Developer – City of Vancouver, and Vancouver School Board
Architects – Henriquez Partners Architects, amd A2M
Landscape Architects – PFS Studio

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