A new project in Yaletown is adapting education to high-rise living, by including a private pre-school and kindergarten in a residential tower.
The unusual inclusion of a Montessori school in the 36-storey tower on Helmcken and Richards is a sign that the private-school sector and the development industry are reacting to the increasing number of families living in high-rise buildings and the lack of school amenities that often accompany that trend.
“It makes a lot of sense for developers to include the school in their projects, as an amenity and an added benefit for everybody,” said Arif Merali, operator of the Yaletown Montessori, the institution that will occupy the first two floors of the new project.
As the operator of another school in Port Coquitlam, Merali notices a trend.
“Our other location is also in a new residential, 26-storey high-rise tower on Lions Park. And experience there has been positive. A lot of our students either live in the actual building or in the surrounding area, so the combination is great for the school,” he added.
In Yaletown, the Montessori school is not new to the neighbourhood.
Currently located across the street from where the new tower will be built, the private pre-school and kindergarten has a small student capacity of 57.
“The new school will be bigger and there will definitely be more room to accommodate a greater number of students and families that move to the area,” the operator remarked.
According to Ilvia Pinilla, Yaletown resident and mother of two children under the age of five, the concept is innovative.
“I am definitely attracted by this idea, because of the added convenience of this unusual mix. Plus, it means one more pre-school in the neighbourhood. That can’t be a bad thing,” she said.
For Jeff Fitzpatrick, a real-estate agent, one of the deciding factors for families looking for a new home is how close they are to a good school.
“Providing options is always positive. But it’s important to note that a private pre-school and kindergarten won’t solve everyone’s problems,” Fizpatrick said.
Lack of schools
While the residential project promises to offer an alternative for families with toddlers and young children, it does not solve the lack of elementary schools in the area.What happens when your children grow up?Currently, the neighbourhood is served by one elementary school, Elsie Roy. There is another school being planned for International Village nearby.
Zonnalie Kabler, who has been living in the area for seven years, believes the private pre-school and kindergarten will only be a short-term solution.
“What happens when your children grow up?” she asked.
Other parents are concerned about equal access to schools.
“Not everyone can afford a private school. What Yaletown needs is more public schools,” said Shohreh Farah, the mother of a boy who spent a few months on the waitlist for Elsie Roy elementary before getting the precious green light.
But getting more public-school space has been a struggle.
“The city has been good in ensuring space. Construction of the International Village elementary school is underway. The biggest challenge is getting the ministry of education to approve the funding to build the schools,” said Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus.
“We need to accommodate every child that wants to go to public school and we intend to keep doing our best to do that.”