B.C. Hydro revives proposal to build substation beneath West End elementary school

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      As B.C. Hydro's electricity system in downtown Vancouver is aging, the search for a downtown location for a new substation has returned to the previously proposed site of a West End elementary school.

      According to an April 12 news release from B.C. Hydro and the Vancouver School Board (VSB), all above-ground options in the West End for a substation would require about half of a city block, thus necessitating the demolition of housing.

      “With land in downtown Vancouver being scarce and expensive, we believe that an underground substation is the best option to meet the long-term electricity needs of the West End community,” B.C. Hydro president and chief operating officer Chris O’Riley stated in a news release. “By going underground, we would eliminate the need to purchase expensive, private property and potentially take away housing stock from the area, while also providing significant funding to the downtown Vancouver school community.”  

      B.C. Hydro has presented a proposal to the Vancouver School Board (VSB), the City of Vancouver, and the Vancouver Park Board to build a new underground substation at the Lord Roberts Annex elementary school site, adjacent to Nelson Park in Vancouver's West End.

      The proposal would require trenching and cabling for high-voltage transmission lines under Nelson Park.

      The agreement would provide funding that would expedite the construction of a new Coal Harbour school, create a new playing field at Lord Roberts Annex, and provide space for a full-sized elementary school at the site after the substation is completed.

      “The West End needs additional school spaces for the growing community of families there, so we are interested in exploring this proposal to see if it could provide a worthwhile and safe solution,” Vancouver Board of Education chair Janet Fraser stated in a news release. 

      B.C. Hydro and the VSB are planning to hold community consultations in May that will include sessions with parents and stakeholders, open houses, small-group meetings, and online consultations.

      The VSB will make a decision about the project in June and the project would require approval from the park board and city as well.

      Lord Roberts Annex, located at 1150 Nelson Street, offers classes from kindergarten to Grade 3 and had 156 students in 2017.

      B.C. Hydro previously proposed a similar idea in January 2017 that involved two underground substations, with one beneath a Yaletown park and the other beneath Lord Roberts Annex.

      That proposal faced concerns from parents who felt they didn't have enough time to consider a project that would require their children to change schools during construction and who also sought guarantees that the school board would use the money from the agreement to build new schools.

      However, on March 9, 2017, B.C. Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald stated that the price of the land that the City of Vancouver was planning to charge would add additional costs to the expense of building underground. In addition to an anticipated delay of several months in decision-making, BC Hydro deemed the proposal unfeasible and abandoned it.