BC Hydro revives underground substation idea for West End school
An elementary school in Vancouver’s West End could soon be home to a new BC Hydro power substation.
The Crown utility and the Vancouver School Board (VSB) are in talks to install an underground facility on the property of of Lord Roberts Annex at Nelson and Bute Street.
Project Manager Andrew Leonard says downtown’s electrical system is aging, and the existing substation has been in operation since 1953.
“The problem is it’s now constrained. It’s surrounded by condo towers and movie theatres. So there is no way of actually rebuilding that substation. So we have to secure a new site and build a new substation.”
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BC Hydro says the proposed substation would take up nearly half a block, and the cost of acquiring new land would be too high, while resulting in the loss of existing housing.
It says it is prepared to pay “fair market value” for the underground rights, which would allow for the construction of a new school in Coal Harbour and an all weather playing field at Lord Roberts Annex along with the space for a new, full sized school later.
“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,” said VSB Chair Janet Fraser in a statement.
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The underground substation isn’t a new idea. BC Hydro first pitched installing a pair of underground substations — one in the West End and one in Yaletown — last year, but dropped the idea saying the City of Vancouver wanted too much money.
“It was fairly ambitious, we were proposing two underground substations, one in Emery Barnes [Park] and one in Lord Roberts Annex, and it was an all or nothing proposal,” Leonard said.
“This year we’re just concentrating on the Vancouver School Board… because that’s the station we need in the short term.”
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When the utility pitched the idea last year Vancouver Coastal Health signed off on the project, saying plans by BC Hydro to bury high-voltage cables deep underground and use steel shielding to protect from electromagnetic radiation should guarantee safety.
A BC Hydro survey found that just over half of nearby residents supported the idea, though some told Global News their support was conditional on being effectively consulted.
The VSB will begin public consultations on the new substation idea in May. The district will hold public sessions with parents and stakeholders, while BC Hydro will hold open houses and small group meetings.
The VSB is slated to make a decision on the project in June.
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