School closures off the table along with Christy Clark’s flip flops

The VSB’s $1.5 billion capital plan request to government all but takes school closures off the table, despite the district being governed by a B.C. Liberal government-appointed trustee

 

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The Liberals wanted closures because they were a quick and cheap way to cross projects off the list and they would free up space that could be leased to private schools that lobby government through the Federation of Independent Schools Association.

Gladstone and Britannia were on a preliminary list of schools to be considered for closure by the VSB last fall, along with ten elementary schools. The board voted in October to suspend the process after strong public opposition and several senior staff members went on leave.

The B.C. Liberals were all for the VSB pushing ahead on that when they had an elected board to make the tough choices for them. That's all changed for two reasons — there's no elected board to take the blame and they took a beating in Metro Vancouver ridings on election day, and they're fighting for their survival now.

The closure flip flop is great news

Now Turner can make a case for moving forward with more seismic projects without pressure to close schools, regardless of which party is in government. That means not disrupting communities and putting students and families through another round of painful closure meetings. Amen to that.

Here’s what’s in the plan

In most years the education ministry tells school boards to submit five-year capital-plan requests. They give detailed instructions and boards respond with their priority projects. Sometimes a few of them get funded, but under the B.C. Liberal government, most don’t, although they’re all much-needed projects. Some eventually get approved, although it can take many years. Think of it as a kind of wish list, for now at least.

Over half the VSB’s schools are still assessed as “high risk” and have yet to get a funding commitment from the province, 12 years after the B.C. Liberal government promised they’d all be upgraded by 2020. The means the VSB has a big ask for seismic projects — by far the biggest of any district. I wrote about Christy Clark’s broken seismic promises from her 2013 campaign here.

The VSB’s proposed 2018/19 capital plan comprises five categories: seismic upgrade and/or replacement projects; new schools or expansions; the “school enhancement program,” which includes upgrades to electrical and mechanical systems, washrooms and issues affecting health and safety; building envelope repairs or upgrades; and the province’s carbon-neutral capital program which funds projects that reduce carbon emissions.

The seismic project section includes ten top priority projects that don't have funding commitments yet: Hamber, Bayview, Lloyd George, Thompson, Begbie, Point Grey, Weir, Killarney, Cavell and Wolfe (to view the full, 30-school list see “attachment B” in this document).

The request for new projects includes five new schools totaling over $212 million — starting with funding for a 320-seat elementary school in Coal Harbour in the plan’s first year, then a 510-seat school for the Olympic Village in the second year, followed in the third year by a 1000-seat replacement building for King George Secondary school downtown, then a new, 510-seat elementary school at UBC in year four and a 510-seat school for the south-east Fraserlands in the plan’s fifth year.

Bear in mind that even if government comes through on all projects as requested, they will take several years to design and build once funding is secured.

The plan also requests funding from the province’s carbon-neutral capital program to upgrade heat plants at Hastings and Roberts elementary schools.

All without closing more schools, apparently.

A lot may change in coming weeks and months with so much uncertainty at the provincial level. But the NDP and Greens are even less likely to expect closures than the Liberals seem to be. That's a bit of good new for Vancouver communities. 

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