“Lego-Style” School Has Lessons for Housing, Communities

Vancouver’s first four-storey elementary school was built up, not out
Anne McMullin
October 17, 2017

Metro Vancouver’s rising land costs have forced city planners, developers, architects and engineers to think creatively using this concept to maximize space for housing, services and community amenities to support surging population growth.

Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the downtown core of the City of Vancouver, where the Crosstown Elementary School became the first school in BC to be built up – four storeys up, to be exact – above a parkade.

With colourful yellow and blue accents resembling Lego blocks, the school, located at 55 Expo Boulevard, was built to support the many new families with children living in the high-rises around International Village, Chinatown, Gastown, Yaletown and Northeast False Creek. Additional new residents will come over the years as homes are built on the Concord Pacific lands, Plaza of Nations Expo ’86 sites as well as the area freed up by the demolition of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

The first school to be built in the downtown area in about a decade, Crosstown Elementary will welcome its inaugural class of 510 students this September 2017.Nearby, existing elementary schools were already bursting with no room for expansion.

The project cost was nearly $20 million, primarily funded by the province with some contributions from the Vancouver School Board and City of Vancouver. A $2.1 million developer payment was contributed to the City of Vancouver toward this project.

The school will make use of the adjacent Andy Livingstone Park playground, artificial turf field and outdoor play spaces on elevated terraces in the building itself so students will have plenty of areas for physical exercise.

Constructed by ITC Construction Group, the LEED Goldbuilding features approximately 48,000 square feet of classroom space, including multi-purpose rooms for before and after school daycare and community rentals. The innovative design has already garnered a 2017 Silver Award from the Vancouver Regional Construction Association. Some very poignant recognition came when the children attending the daycare next door sent the developer a “thank you” card for building their future school.

Vancouver isn’t the only city that has experienced school shortages in growing communities. Surrey has seen rapid population growth with many students housed in portables as a result. The Urban Development Institute recently joined forces with the grassroots Surrey Schools Coalition that successfully lobbied the previous provincial government for $217 million to fund new schools and 5,200 new K-12 student seats. I was proud to support this initiative and, for that, I was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. This certificate, hung proudly on my wall, reminds me of one of the most important investments of all: our children and our future.

Community-building requires innovation to leverage publicly invested funds and developer contributions by building up, from housing to schools to recreational facilities and more.

Airspace we have plenty of; land, not so much.