Roof of former North Vancouver school collapses

Roof of former North Vancouver school collapses

Roof of former North Vancouver school collapses

Neighbors are expressing concerns about the decaying building and what will happen to the property.

The roof of the North Vancouver School District’s long-closed Lucas Centre has collapsed, raising concerns about the safety of the decaying building and questions about what should happen to the property.

Sometime on Tuesday, June 25, two sections of the gymnasium roof experienced “localized failures” and collapsed, according to a statement from school district spokesman Alex Yallouz.

“As a precaution, a construction fence has been installed at the site. An after-hours security patrol has been implemented as an additional safety measure while we develop plans to partially demolish the affected section of the Lucas Center building,” he said, adding that the school district has hired architectural, structural and mechanical engineering consultants, as well as a demolition contractor to assess the building.

Yallouz said regular safety checks were carried out on the 1955 building and that the roof collapse was unforeseen.

But this came as no surprise to residents, said Pamela Pike, president of the Hamilton Heights Residents’ Association, which has long been lobbying the North Vancouver school district to “come up with a plan” for the rotting building and surrounding land.

“It has deteriorated rapidly over the last five years, no doubt, and it is a great risk for people,” he said, adding that the building is frequently used by squatters. “There is no care or concern for the building, for the property, for the neighbourhood and that is why we are left… with the problems.”

The last educational programs at the Lucas Centre moved out in 2012. The school district’s maintenance department still uses a portion of the back of the building as its base of operations. Prior to being known as the Lucas Centre, the building was Hamilton Junior High School.

Yallouz said they hope to have plans for the demolition completed by mid-July and that the work could take more than three months, depending on the availability of equipment.

The school district had already asked the Ministry of Education and Child Care for funding to demolish unused portions of the building before the collapse, but the ministry denied that request in March, Yallouz said.

Because of the risks posed by the building, including structural issues, asbestos and mold, members of the City of North Vancouver Fire Department have been instructed not to enter the building in the event of a fire, Fire Chief Greg Schalk confirmed. Instead, crews would only attack the flames from the outside and prevent the blaze from spreading to nearby homes, he said.

What to do with the land?

In 2014, the school district submitted plans to redevelop the site, with proposals ranging from 51 single-family homes to towers as high as 14 stories with up to 354 new apartments. But the school board backed off the plans, and the building has been largely abandoned ever since.

Pike said he doesn’t think there’s a consensus among residents on what should be done to the property, but said if it’s a residential redevelopment, the same transportation issues that arose a decade ago will re-emerge. There are only two roads in and out of the neighborhood and the nearest bus stop on Marine Drive is about a 15-minute walk from the property.

The entire five-hectare lot was last appraised at $92.4 million.

The property features gravel and grass sports fields and access to trails along Mosquito Creek to the west.

Yallouz said there are currently no future development plans for the site, but discussions are ongoing.

The statement notes that it is “a large, well-located property suitable for many potential future uses,” including a purpose-built maintenance facility for the school district and accommodation of anticipated growth in student enrollment as more development comes to the area, particularly the redevelopment of Capilano Mall about 700 metres to the south.

A statement from City of North Vancouver staff said there are “no ongoing discussions with the school board regarding future use or redevelopment of the Lucas Centre site.”

Whatever the future holds, Pike said, neighbors are stakeholders, though they haven’t had any direct communication about the Lucas Center or future use of the site in years.

“We’re supposed to be aware and part of the conversations, and I think the neighborhood feels like we haven’t been there,” she said.