When Jennifer Thuncher first arrived in Burnaby in 1989, Metrotown was a mere department store.
25 years later, the area is now a bustling metropolis with one of the largest shopping centre in western Canada and increasing number of residential towers built around the Metrotown Skytrain station.
Transportation is a current hot issue in the city, said Burnaby city councillor Sav Dhaliwal, as the majority of infrastructure that goes towards the east or northeast section of Lower Mainland, such as Langley, goes through Burnaby first, especially with the approaching Metro Vancouver transit referendum on Mar.16 to decide on whether to increase the Provincial Sales Tax by 0.5 per cent to expand bus and Skytrain services.
Though the board is happy to support funding, said Dhaliwal, there has not been a formal discussion in the council for the plebiscite idea.
Jennifer Thuncher, Burnaby resident for 25 years in the Metrotown area, has heard concerns from her neighbourhood on whether the current infrastructure is keeping up with the increase in density and development.
“Putting in so many towers around Metrotown and Brentwood mall, those areas are already congested with traffic, and Skytrain is very busy at those stops,” said Thuncher. “Traffic has been increasingly a problem.”
Kinder Morgan pipeline
Councillor Dhaliwal named the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline, which aims to bring oil from the Alberta oil sands to new Asian Markets, as the main issue Burnaby has been dealing with for the last year, including talks with the National Energy Board as well as the oil company’s storage tank farm on Burnaby Mountain.
However, the oil pipeline is more than an environmental concern for Vancouverites and general Burnaby residents, according to Sharon Freeman, teacher-librarian at the Stride Avenue Community School and chairperson of the Burnaby public library board.
“The Kinder Morgan pipeline is a topic not only for people who live in Burnaby, but it’s also a concern for people who work in the schools of Burnaby because so much of the pipelines are near our schools, that’s a concern for Burnaby teachers,” said Freeman.
“Burnaby has been a changing community since I moved here, so it’s very diverse,” said Freeman. “In my school, for example, I have kids this year that are born in 27 countries.”
Paul Holden, president and CEO of the Burnaby Board of Trade, explained that development in Burnaby involves “the four quadrant strategy,” citing major mixed commercial and residential density building areas by Metrotown, Lougheed, Brentwood, and Edmonds.
The city of Burnaby had announced earlier this year new facilities to be built in the next four years include a recreation centre by Brentwood Town Centre, a performance centre in Metrotown, and an ice rink in southeast Burnaby.
City councilor Dhaliwal said environmental and sustainability strategies for development are also in the talks.
“We have done a fair bit of work in involving the community, where almost 200 citizens have been involved, either through voluntary contributions or interviews,” said Dhaliwal. “Sustainability strategies will be formalized sometime this year.”
Burnaby, as the third largest city in the province with a population of close to a quarter of a million residents, has four key sectors of businesses: telecommunications and technology, film and television, biotechnology, and tourism and retail, said Holden from the Burnaby Board of Trade.
Major players of the technology industry include Telus and video game maker Electronic Arts, Inc., and most biotechnology companies in Burnaby develop health care products, continued Holden, citing a pharmaceutical company based in Burnaby that as developed a vaccine for the Ebola virus.
Burnaby also houses two thirds of the province’s studio space with Vancouver Film Studios, continued Holden, which lies on the border between the city and Vancouver, also known as Hollywood North.
For sports and retail tourism, he said, Burnaby’s sports facilities, including the Fortius sport and health that opened in May 2013, attracts tournaments and athletes from across Canada, and Metrotown is one of the largest retail areas in western Canada.
School trustee Larry Hayes listed student retention, exempt staff salaries, budget cuts, facilities upgrading as the main issues for the Burnaby school board.
“We want to keep as many as students in the public system as possible and continue to attract new students because in addition to wanting to provide these kids a good education, every student means money,” said Hayes, referring to per-student funding from the provincial government. “The more students, the more money, the more we’re able to provide the best variety of programs.”
Hayes explained that budget planning for this year is off by about 140 students, which could be a result of a variety of reasons that includes families relocating to different parts of the Lower Mainland or Canada, as well as switching to private schools.
Hayes said balancing budget is always an issue, as the government’s funding formula does not take into account realities.
Municipal school boards are legislated to present a balanced budget that shows a zero or a surplus to the province every year, explained Hayes.
“The government doesn’t give us extra money for regular inflation on supplies, equipment, as well as repairs for aging infrastructure,” Hayes continued.
The Burnaby school board will need to make adjustments to account for a $7.4 million projected deficit this year, Hayes explained, that usually tend to signify cuts in technology updates and janitorial shifts to maintain other programs.
“But what happens when there’s a mess in the washroom; who’s going to clean that up,” said Hayes. “The principals sometimes have to do that because there are no janitors.
“Would you rather cut ESL classes or someone in the school sweep it up during the day?”
More needs and less money
Vesna Kanjer, retired Burnaby teacher-librarian since 2013, have noticed in the last few year of her career that there are more needy children and less resources to deal with their needs.
Volunteers have become increasingly important, said Kanjer, with less paid personnel, “if you’re lucky enough to be in a school where the parents are not working.”
Kanjer, whose first language was Croatian, had no ESL class when she was a child.
“You were just immersed in English and there was just one or two ESL students in a class of 30,” said Kanjer. “So it was sink or swim.”