BRITISH COLUMBIA

Seismic upgrades at B.C. schools taking decade longer than forecast

03/06/2015 07:35 EST | Updated 05/06/2015 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - Seismic upgrades at British Columbia's schools are likely to take a decade longer than originally planned, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Friday.

Fassbender said the completion date for the 339 schools marked for seismic upgrade work across the province is now set for 2030. The original plan in 2005 was to have the work complete by 2020.

Fassbender confirmed Friday recent estimates by the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C., which told the government last year the upgrades for high-risk schools outside of the Vancouver area won't be ready until 2025 while work at Vancouver's high-risk schools won't be complete until 2030.

"It's going to take longer," Fassbender said at a news conference in Surrey, southeast of Vancouver. "That's been the learning curve."

He said building science and construction techniques of the day are partly to blame for the delay, but he said Vancouver School Board delays in project planning also contributed.

"When the program was announced, the objectives were very clear: make schools safe for every single child," Fassbender said.

"What we didn't know was the reality once you start getting into everything."

He said the government doubled its original budget to $2.2 billion from $1.1 billion.

Of the 339 B.C. schools that require seismic work, 145 are complete and the remaining 194 are in varying stages of planning and construction, Fassbender said.

There are 69 schools in the Vancouver school district still in line for seismic upgrades, while 20 are complete, according to Education Ministry statistics. In other B.C. school districts, 127 schools still require upgrades, while 123 are compete.

Fassbender said money is not an issue.

"The money has been there, is there to do all of the projects in Vancouver," he said.

"What has been an issue is the inability of the Vancouver School Board to bring forward project definitions that are bathed in good engineering, good science to ensure these projects were done properly and ensuring the safety of students.

Vancouver board chairman Christopher Richardson said the city's school board wants the upgrades done as quickly as possible and is willing to work with the province to finish the job. He cited the recent creation of the Vancouver project office to drive both the government and school board to complete the seismic upgrades.

"The reality is the 2020 target is not going to be met," he said.

"It is our belief that we should be working as quickly as possible in co-operation with the ministry to get the projects done."