By Peter Fassbender, Minister of Education
VICTORIA: For more than a decade, government has been making schools safer from earthquakes to protect students and staff. In fact, so far, we’ve spent over $2 billion dollars.
Today, 145 projects are completed, 11 are under construction, nine are proceeding to construction and 48 projects are in various stages of planning. By any measure, the program is an award-winning success story.
Our seismic mitigation program is recognized worldwide. Experts from around the globe come here to learn from B.C.’s work. We have worked closely with the professional engineers of APEGBC, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, and our plan is safe and achievable.
But while it is true we’ve made great progress, there’s no question that the pace of projects in Vancouver has been too slow. Compared to other school districts, they take twice as long to get seismic work done.
They’ve completed less than half of their seismic upgrades. Four projects that the ministry supported to proceed almost 10 years ago are stalled due to Vancouver’s insufficient planning. They are John Oliver Secondary, Sir Sanford Fleming, Sir Guy Carleton, and Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary schools.
A fifth example, Lord Nelson Elementary, was approved only recently after we created a jointly managed project office to help speed up the rate of seismic upgrades and replacement projects in the district. At the rate the Vancouver school district was going, it would have taken them another 30 years – out to 2045 – to address its remaining high-risk schools.
One need only to look beyond the Vancouver school district to see the speed of project completion in other districts. South Delta Secondary was completed within 18 months from the time that we announced support for the project. In Campbell River, Ecole Phoenix Middle school was completed within 19 months. Across the strait, in Greater Victoria, Quadra Elementary was completed within 27 months.
Schools in Victoria are similar in construction, age, and complexity. Yet, in spite of facing similar obstacles, Victoria has completed 12 out of 18 projects while Vancouver has completed just 20 out of 49.
What’s different in Victoria? For one thing, the Greater Victoria board of education has worked collaboratively with my ministry to properly define the scope of the seismic upgrades. For another, Victoria has made effective use of “swing space” like Richmond Elementary school to house students during upgrades at other schools, like the recently completed Quadra Elementary. They’ve also used Richmond to house students when upgrades were being done at Margaret Jenkins and Willows Elementary as well as Central Middle school. Richmond is now being used for the upgrade to George Jay Elementary. If it sounds like there’s a lot happening to make students safer in the capital city – it’s because it’s true – there is a lot happening.
Vancouver could have done the same. Vancouver has 9,000 empty school seats in the district that could be used to house students while seismic upgrades are going on. But instead, for reasons that defy logic, Vancouver keeps asking for portables. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the Vancouver school district has an accumulated surplus of $28 million. The school district could have been using this money to fund the additional work it claims it wants done to schools, like heritage preservation, while the Province has funded the seismic work.
At the end of the day, even by the most generous assessment, there’s no question that the Vancouver school district should have completed well over half of their seismic projects by now, instead of less than half.
My ministry is committed to working with Vancouver and staff at the new co-governed project office to move these projects forward and get the work done.
Students deserve nothing less.