A Modest Proposal for Hume School

Hume Park Elementary has been on the chopping block multiple times (a few examples: in 2009, and again in 2010), and each time dedicated parents come to its’ defense and each time Hume Park gets voted to stay open and each time everyone breaths a sigh of relief.  Yesterday, I read that, once again, a trustee is puttingRead More

Hume Park Elementary has been on the chopping block multiple times (a few examples: in 2009, and again in 2010), and each time dedicated parents come to its’ defense and each time Hume Park gets voted to stay open and each time everyone breaths a sigh of relief.  Yesterday, I read that, once again, a trustee is putting forward a motion to consolidate Hume Park with it’s bigger brother up the hill, Richard McBride Elementary. The motion won’t get voted on without another trustee to second it but if it passes, once again the uncertainty will take a toll as potential attendees will be enrolled in neighbouring schools with a more stable future.

I think Hume Park Elementary should be shut down and be turned into a branch of New Westminster Public Library.


Looking at Hume Park Elementary from the spray park at Hume Park
A view from a school

I live on the topographically low end of Massey Victory Heights. My son is 2.5 years old and Hume Park is our catchment school.  What happens in our school district here in New Westminster is very much on my radar these days because as Briana pointed out in early 2010, if you want your child to be enrolled in a “program of choice” (and I do, our sights are set on Montessori), you have to sign your kid up at birth, essentially, in order to be considered for a spot. So while Kindergarten is just over two years away, I’m paying close attention to what’s going on in our district.

When I moved to this neighbourhood last summer, I was quite caught up with this romantic “Little House on the Prairie” one-room schoolhouse idea that our son would attend Hume Park Elementary (if we lose out on the weird system that is the allotment for Programs of Choice). “Oh, it would be so lovely,” I thought. “All that attention by the staff, all that closeness with his fellow students.” I was quite in love with this charming notion until someone pointed out a few things to me. Namely, Hume Park Elementary doesn’t have a gym, their library is small, and they share their principal with F.W. Howay School. They have 26 students – TWENTY SIX –  currently enrolled in their four grades and they don’t currently have a kindergarten class (only 2 registered this past September). They do have a before and after school care program and they also have an active and dedicated PAC headed by Nikki Binns, and I applaud their tireless dedication to a cause they believe in.

Heres’s how I see it:

For one, the district can save money. As a district, it doesn’t make fiscal sense to keep a school that serves on 26 students open at a cost of around $250,000 a year. (I got that number from this article, which indicates what the potential savings would be). I realize the teachers would simply be relocated, but being relocated and teaching 25 students rather than 4, for example, seems to be a better use of wages. An argument can be made that a child who gets more one on one time from their teacher might get a better education – but I think kids also learn from each other and by witnessing their peers try.

Second, being such a tiny school, they lack a gymnasium and have a very small library. Granted, the school is in a beautiful park with lots of amenities, but a gymnasium is also good for things like assemblies, plays, arts and culture, and rainy day sports. I realize the students get to tack onto McBride’s programming and events, but this means they need to truck themselves up to McBride. Personally, it would make me feel like an outsider if I got brought in for special events. I love that Hume Park can foster an amazing tight-knit sense of community – but if one regularly feels like an outsider getting brought in, it would be confusing at the least.

Third, it’s been supposed that McBride couldn’t handle the additional students (that’s stated in a number of the articles, here’s one). Currently, we’re talking about 26 students. Already, 40 or so students have withdrawn from Hume and gone elsewhere and it seems to have worked out. This factor was also disputed in an article in the Record in 2009.

Finally, there has been mention that Sapperton (and Massey Victory Heights) is growing and will need Hume Park to remain open to meet a large influx of families. With the Brewery District development charging along at full speed, as well young couples or young families (like me) settling in homes being vacated by long term residents who are either passing away or downsizing, there have been indications of a significant demographical shift. This is happening, albeit very slowly. It will take years to see the numbers needed to justify the continued use of Hume Park Elementary. Additionally, the Brewery District isn’t really attempting to attract those families. If you read their text on their marketing website about the residential units, nowhere does it mention the keywords families look for: playgrounds, parks, recreation, activities, nature, proximity to schools, crime rates, and access to and other child-centred resources. They’re selling to hip, young, urban professionals who want to have coffee with a friend or pick up groceries with ease.

Turning Hume Park Elementary into a public library branch will make it a better neighbourhood asset – a library will reach a larger group of residents than an elementary school with less than 30 children. Additionally, a new library could also include room for a resource centre for the School District’s Home Learners Program. Their current resource centre is on busy Sixth Street in between 3rd and 4th Ave – I haven’t been in it, but it’s positioned between random storefronts (some empty and for lease and others tenanted) and a pub.

NWPL is a fantastic library – it’s generally busy every time I go in there at any time of day, and it’s well stocked and well run with nice staff. It has great programs for kids and adults, and features all sorts of pluses: free wifi, computers for use, fantastic archival and historical research resources, meeting rooms available for use by community groups, and a recently updated online catalogue. NWPL is doing a great job and have been adaptive and proactive to the needs of the citizens as best they can.

But there’s only one. And while it’s centrally located, it’s not really that convenient for those of us over here in the Sapperton McBride – Massey Victory Heights area or the Queensborough area. My other-side-of-the-bridge friends are getting themselves their own branch soon, if all pans out with the redevelopment of the Queensborough Community Centre. (detailed PDF plans for that are here and a silent movie virtual tour is here).

A tree doing its thing in Hume Park.

So, my opinion is that Hume Park Elementary (with some restoration) could make a beautiful library branch with room for a resource centre. All those lovely glass windows, a reasonable sized parking area, a great setting, close to transit, and serving an interesting mix of area residents – seniors, young families, and everything in between.

I don’t have any answers about how it would play out – I assume the building and land are owned by the District and the library is a department of the City, so there would likely have to be a land exchange similar to what is going on right now while three new schools get built. I also don’t really know how expensive it is to operate a library as I doubt they generate much revenue and I don’t know where the addition of something like this would sit on the City’s priority list. All I’m saying is if the seemingly inevitable closure of Hume Park Elementary happens (and in all honesty, if it’s not this current time, it’s only a matter of time given the history), wouldn’t a library be a fantastic repurposing of the space that would still suit the needs of our community?


Jen Arbo

Jen Arbo is the editor and co-publisher of Tenth to the Fraser. She's been writing for the site since 2007 and lives in Sapperton with her family. A project manager at heart, she also operates Hyack Interactive, a digital communications company. Find her on Twitter or Instagram.

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  1. What a fantastic idea- that is, possibly using Hume Park school as part of an NWPL annex. As a Sapperton resident here, also, getting to the main library uptown , on transit, can sometimes be a real pain in the neck. Especially when the bus does not show up. To have a library a comfortable walking distance from my home would be fabulous. Heck, even some place just to return books would be welcome!!!

  2. That is a fantastic idea! The nwpl could totally use more branches.

    I think you make some excellent points about the reality vs. romantic notion of a tiny school. I tend to think of public schools as places equally for socialization and 'book learning' and if it can't fulfill one of those, then it might be better used for something else.

  3. Im am so glad to hear your ideas. My son went there for all school years and moved to the middle school with 9 others from his grade 5 class. I think its time and the teacher will be needed at other schools in New West. Thanks for writing this.

  4. I've felt Hume was a too small to be viable for a while now (as a tax payer, not a parent – we home school our kids) but our current civic leadership (school board) seems to be unable to stick with a decision the moment a group of parents challenges them. I am sure the tar will be boiled and the feathers gathered once parents with a vested interest in Hume hear of Jen's plan.

    The city needs a plan that takes into account the current demographics of the city, then come up with a development plan for the city, and then marry them to determine how the profile of the city will change. More single people, or more retired people, or more married people with kids?

    And this plan needs to stretch decades out, with contingencies for changes in circumstances. And one of the outcomes of such a forward-thinking document would be the current, near-term, and long-term needs of the school district.

    To separate how development will occur in the city from the needs of the school system is folly.

    Maybe the city has such a plan – it's hard to say, given the bi-monthly announcement of a change in plans regarding a new elementary/middle/high-school. It seems the plan is to throw ideas out to the general public, and then go with the one that is the least unpopular. I doubt that will lead to an optimal outcome.

    Elected officials need to be willing to make an unpopular decision if it is the right decision. Unfortunately, the democratic system rarely rewards politicians who act in that manner.

  5. The issue I have with all of this is the incessant volleyballing. Supposedly, the decision was made. I'm in Hume Park's catchment as well, and we got the letters saying that it is open for business and come register. That the closure threat was done. And then, maybe two weeks later, it's back to the chopping block as usual.

  6. Jen,

    Things are changing beyond this Hume school discussion. 35 acres of land adjacent to Braid that have the highest and best use (except for NIMBYs of course) to be developed with mixed residential and commercial will be developed with housing for young families included. This will add density to your area, support for vibrant commercial and park amenities and requirement for a new elementary school which should be incorporated into this development plan. Think and advocate longer term!

    1. Hello Guest, when do you think the possible development is going to be completed? I'm all for advocating for longer term, however, just how long should the district dump money into a school with less than 50 kids in the hopes that more kids will eventually come? 10 years? 20 years? How many years have they already been doing it? While I'm open to new ideas for Hume that keep it as a school (a home learners resource centre or perhaps a French Immersion primary school or a Montessori school) you have to remember that if some massive development does ever get built, there are still only a handful of parking spaces for staff, no gymnasium and a library the size of a closet. Part of Hume's issue is that even at maximum enrollment, the school can barely offer decent services comparable to other schools in the district. My opinion that it is it would be more useful as some other community building but we'll see how it plays out for the next few years and I will keep an open mind.

  7. This is correct; however, it's likely Hume would have to be rebuilt to take on the extra students. And this development is years away. The land has not been sold and there are no plans on the table. So the debate continues…do we keep open (and fund) a school that does not have enough students, while we wait for this development to happen? Or does the City keep the property and convert it to some interrim use?

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