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Urban Academy gets green light for urban school in New West

When classes end for summer, the folks at Urban Academy will be able to enjoy their vacation knowing the school’s on solid footing for the future.
Urban Academy Wesgroup
Wesgroup Properties and Urban Academy are teaming up to build a 60,000 square-foot school and 195,000 square feet of residential at 100 Braid St.

When classes end for summer, the folks at Urban Academy will be able to enjoy their vacation knowing the school’s on solid footing for the future.

After two previous plans for a school expansion at its current site in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood were rejected, the school got the green light for a new school at Braid Street and Brunette Avenue in Sapperton. Urban Academy has partnered with Wesgroup Properties on a project that would see a 60,000-square-foot school, a residential highrise and 4,300 square feet of art gallery and studio space built at 100 Braid St.

Cheryl Beaumont, head of school at Urban Academy, said the proposal would result in one of the finest designed “urban schools” in the province. The school would be built up, not out, on a compact site in an urban setting.

“Urban Academy would like to join the Sapperton neighbourhood, make some amenities available to the community,” she said. “We are proposing a beautiful gymnasium. That would certainly be something community members would be able to book and use through a user agreement. There’s multipurpose space, drama space, a music room. We have classroom space that may be of interest to community groups.”

While some area residents expressed concerns about student safety and traffic in the congested Braid Street and Brunette Avenue corridor, Urban Academy parents urged council to support the rezoning application and expressed confidence that the site would be safe. Parents also voiced support for the school’s arts-infused curriculum and noted it provides another education option for local families.

Council unanimously supported the official community plan amendment and a zoning amendment bylaw for the project, saying it was an improvement over the previous school proposal and is better than what could be achieved under the site’s current zoning in terms of its community offerings.

Coun. Patrick Johnstone noted traffic was a dominant theme at the public hearing and said that’s something that will be addressed no matter what development takes place on the site.

“This land is not going to stay the way it is right now,” he said. “There were four offers to buy this piece of land, apparently. I don’t see that another use on this piece of land is not going to have the same traffic impacts.

What about the art studios?

The fate of a popular city arts facility is uncertain.

During Monday’s public hearing about the rezoning of 100 Braid St., the city heard from several artists who are concerned how the future plan for the site would impact 100 Braid Street Studios. The project would eventually result in the demolition of the business that provides studio space for 17 artists, as well as space for rehearsals, performances, weddings and other events.

New Westminster-based artist Judy Villett said the space is a “miracle” of design and lighting and provides a space where people can work together.

Although the building doesn’t look like much from the outside, artist Iris Lowe said its beautiful windows and heritage features can’t be replicated in a new building.

“No plaque in the world will ever be as good as the building itself,” she said.

The 1904 building that houses 100 Braid Street Studios was formerly the Winery Building for the B.C. Distillery Co. Ltd. in New West. A heritage assessment determined the building doesn’t need to be retained in order to respect the site’s history and could be acknowledged through signage, plaques, public art or other means, something Wesgroup Properties intends to do.

Erin Jeffrey, vice-president of the Arts Council of New Westminster, said Susan Greig has created a vibrant community arts space at 100 Braid Street Studios. If the development proceeds, she challenged the city to ensure the new space isn’t just as good as the space Greig has created, but even better, and is welcoming to the arts community.

While the Wesgroup has agreed to provide 4,300 square feet of art gallery and studio space in the new development, Greig said it isn’t suitable for her business model and she will look for a new space. Planet Lazer and Bullpen Baseball School would be affected by the development by 2017, with other tenants, including 100 Braid Street Studios, possibly having five years on the site.