While officials agree Tuesday night’s earthquake is a “perfect example” of why B.C. needs to upgrade schools still at high risk of structural collapse, there is still a lot of finger-pointing about the delays getting it done.
According to the Ministry of Education, a total of 342 schools still require seismic upgrades. Over the past decade, the provincial government put in place plans worth $2.2 billion to upgrade or replace 214.
But that still leaves 128 B.C. schools a high risk of collapse during an earthquake, with no plan in place to upgrade or replace them.
According to Education Minister Mike Bernier, in some cases the delays getting the work underway rest with the school districts.
“I think this earthquake is a perfect example and a wake-up call of why we don’t want to be waiting any longer,” said Bernier on Thursday morning.
“It’s one of the top priorities that I have within my mandate to continue to work with the school districts. The funding is there.
“Of course, the timing of that can only go as fast, and as quickly, and as efficiently as the school boards themselves work with us to make sure those priorities are delivered,” Bernier said.
VSB chair says the money isn’t there
But according to Vancouver School Board Chair Mike Lombardi it’s the ministry that is responsible for the delays stopping the upgrades from getting done.
There are 68 high-risk schools in Vancouver alone with no plan in place, and 21 of those are rated by the province at H1, the highest of the three levels of high risk, in the ratings system used by the province.
“We’ve done our preliminary work, but there’s been no approval at the ministry level,” said Lombardi this week.
“We want to get the job done,” Lombardi said. “What we need is the government to step up to the table, live up to their commitment and sign those project agreements so we can start doing the work.”
The fight over who is to blame for the delays has been going on for some time. Earlier this year, then-education minister Peter Fassbender denied media reports the province had pushed back the timetable for seismic upgrades by as many as ten years, to 2030.
Then just before Christmas the Vancouver School Board asked the province to extend the district’s seismic plan deadline from the end of January until June 16, 2016, so that the board could have more time to consult with parents and other stakeholders.
But that plan was rejected by the province.
“I actually denied that plan and said that that was unacceptable,” Bernier said.