Seismic assessments of facilities in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district released this month show a number of high-risk buildings continue to be used by staff and students.
Work began this summer on a $22.6-million seismic upgrade project at Wellington Secondary School. The provincial government since 2001 has been distributing funding to school districts across the province to make the necessary upgrades, with $2.2 billion now spent or committed.
It is estimated that another $600 million will be required to deal with the province's 104 schools that are still classified as high-risk.
Through the process, the provincial government, as the funder of seismic upgrades, has been distributing money based on levels of risk. The province in April announced $584 million in funding for seismic upgrades, to be distributed in annual installments up to the 2015-16 school year.
Included on that list was a $1 million project to improve the safety of classrooms at South Wellington Elementary.
The closure of that school did away with the necessity of the project, but so far, no new funding has made its way to the district.
Board chairman Jamie Brennan described the speed by which seismic mitigation has been rolled out by the province as "glacial.
"The government's pretty loathe to go to the taxpayer for more money," he said. "There's politics in it, always."
Two Brechin Elementary classrooms, concrete change rooms at Cilaire Elementary, North Cedar Intermediate's gymnasium and a classroom at Pleasant Valley Elementary have all been given a high (3) rating by engineers partnered with the province.
That means the facilities — still in use — are at risk of "isolated failure of building elements, such as walls," and would not likely be reparable after a failure.
The district's facilities plan has marked Cilaire for replacement while North Cedar is expected to close in 2015.
Brennan said the task for the district is to continue to remind government of the need. Proactive solutions could also be sought through the community and businesses in Nanaimo.
Some parents who are engaged in the business of their schools are optimistic that upgrades will be completed before 'the big one' hits.
Like everything else that requires massive amounts of funding, the mitigation of earth quake risks for B.C.'s schools is a "work in progress," according to Nanaimo-Ladysmith District Parental Advisory Council vicepresident Rodney Grounds. "Everybody, obviously, wants more money from the province, but as far as doling out the money to specific projects, I believe that both sides are doing their due diligence," he said.
"Everybody wants to have to safest school and safest school district. Everybody's fighting for that piece of the pie," he said.
The $1 million the district saved with the closure of South Wellington - regarded as a secondtier high risk - is expected to be used on other seismic projects. So far it remains unclear how exactly the money saved by the province might make its way back to the district. No other Nanaimo projects were listed in April's second phase funding announcement.
Provincially, the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils has been keeping a close eye on mitigation measures.
BCCPAC's vice-president, John Puddifoot, said there are concerns that high-risk facilities are still being used by students.
But, he said, mitigation is a costly and complex problem.
Research released by the University of Victoria in 2012 attributed a 30 per cent probability to a "structurally damaging" earthquake over the next 100 years.
The same research said there would be a 25 per cent chance that Island communities would experience "widely felt shaking" over the next 10 years.
"The question becomes yes, you want these (high-risk facilities) upgraded, but is it safe to be in them," said Puddifoot. "That's up to individual people. I don't have a problem going into a building that is not earthquake safe, because I know the chance something's going to happen is small.
"If we continue on the rate we are, they will all get upgraded before the 'big one' comes," he added.
The seismic upgrade project at Wellington school is expected to be completed by the fall of 2016.
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North Cedar Intermediate -High Risk (3); gym requires structural upgrade.
Pleasant Valley Elementary -High Risk (3); Second-storey classroom requires structural upgrade.
Cilaire Elementary -High Risk (3) Concrete change rooms require structural upgrade.
Brechin Elementary -High Risk (3) Classrooms 1964 and 1966 require structural upgrades.
Woodlands Secondary -Medium (4) Classrooms, gym, library and cafeteria require upgrades.
NDSS -Medium (4) Classrooms, library and cafe require upgrades.
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