Christy Clark made promises to seismically upgrade schools in her last campaign — she didn’t keep those promises and she’s taking credit for others

In 2005, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell promised to upgrade all of B.C.’s seismically high-risk public schools by 2020. The Christy Clark government has pushed that deadline to 2025 or even 2030, and has made more promises than progress.

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Many parents preferred that option as well, but the consulting engineers, architects and VSB facilities staff cautioned about the poor quality of the original building’s foundations, awkward layout and many technical challenges involved in upgrading the old building. They also noted that many of the original heritage features had been either destroyed in a fire or through renovations.

After many meetings and workshops spread over several months, the VSB voted on October 17, 2011 to ask the Ministry of Education to fund a replacement building and the demolition of the old building. In the summer of 2012 then-education minister George Abbott and I signed a funding agreement for the new General Gordon building. 

The new three-storey General Gordon building was designed by DA Architects and Planners and I think it’s spectacular. With room for about 400 students from kindergarten through grade seven, it has 18 classrooms, a flexible performance space, a library, kitchen, multipurpose room, a beautiful and spacious library with large windows and natural light spilling everywhere. While the school site is relatively small — about half the size of the Ministry of Education standard — the landscaping, play and activity areas are well laid out and make it feel larger than it is.

After being bussed to portables at Queen Elizabeth School (main and annex) for two years, the students I’ve spoken with seem over the moon to be in the new building.

I was there to cover the December 2, 2016 official opening event for the Vancouver Observer. It was a little odd to see two politicians who as far as I know have never been to the school before hosting the event.

Vancouver-False Creek MLA Sam Sullivan and Vancouver- Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson were at the podium along with the government-appointed trustee, Dianne Turner.

During my six years as VSB Chair I spoke at many of these kind of events and always tried to ensure people who’d contributed to getting projects approved and completed were invited, acknowledged and thanked. I loved telling students the story about how the $2 billion (the budget and costs have increased since 2005) B.C. school seismic mitigation program that’s underway started because a group of high-school students.

A missed teachable moment about students making a difference

Telling kids about the Lizards was my way of letting them know that it wasn’t just government people in suits who get things done, it’s also people — including children and youth — who have the power to make change.

I told them how that small group of Van Tech Secondary Students was the reason their school was now safe. I also told them, of course, that a lot of other people helped too and that if there was something they really believed needed to be done or changed, they should work with each other and find allies and make it happen. The Lizards did it and they can too.

But that was not to be at the General Gordon opening, despite the long and winding path that led to last week’s official opening. Instead two provincial politicians — Sullivan and Wilkinson —  joined the government’s recently appointed VSB trustee to hold a “milestone event” at General Gordon School on Friday morning (Dec 2). 

Sullivan MC’d and spoke generally about making schools safe and mentioned the parent “auxiliary” council (they’re actually called Parent Advisory Councils - PACs) and introduced Wilkinson, who I suspect was on his first-ever visit to General Gordon.

There were no stories of bold student leaders who sparked a movement that led to a major government commitment, but two students were asked to speak and another played his clarinet beautifully for the small group of parents and VSB staff assembled in the school library.

The two student speakers — Jessica and Maya — told everyone how much they loved their new school building and ended their remarks with “thank you to the minister for our new school.”

Two parents from the school’s PAC also spoke and did a great job of it. The ceremony — complete with a government branded podium in the school library — was followed by a tour and a school-wide assembly and celebration.

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