Richmond schools a priority as B.C. government accelerates earthquake upgrades

Richmond schools a priority as B.C. government accelerates earthquake upgrades

The B.C. government is accelerating funding for seismic upgrades to public schools with a special focus on the Richmond School District, where "challenging" soil conditions pose a high risk of collapse, says Education Minister Rob Fleming. 

The ministry has funded and established a seismic mitigation project team in School District 38 to clear the backlog of seismic upgrades needed at 25 local schools, the government announced Thursday. 

The Richmond funding is part of a stated goal to approve 50 seismic and capital projects in schools across the province over the next 18 months.

"There are some districts that are very, very far behind," Fleming told On the Island host Gregor Craigie. "The biggest projects have been saved for the last, for sure."

In Richmond, he said, "They've got very challenging soil conditions, there's no question about it. They've only done three schools, one of which was torn down by the previous government."

Professional engineer Frank Geyer, the former director of facilities and planning with the Delta School District, was recruited to co-ordinate the accelerated seismic mitigation program for Richmond schools.

The first task for the Richmond team is directing procurement and construction on improvements to Hugh Boyd Secondary School and William Cook Elementary School.

Fleming said while some school districts outside of Richmond have upgraded all of their at-risk buildings, others have not succeeded in addressing the structures at highest risk. 

"It's very uneven around the province, in all the school districts that lie on the fault line and would be at a risk of collapse in the event of the Big One," he said.

Upgrades required provincewide

On Vancouver Island, Victoria High School — often referred to as the oldest public high school in Western Canada — is a "prime example" of a large, complicated and expensive project that is at the top of the priority list, but has never received approval for seismic mitigation or replacement. 

"It has been a project that has been punted backwards on the timeline a number of times over the years," Fleming said.

The Greater Victoria School District will soon launch public consultation on the building's future and options for repair or replacement of the historic structure.

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island with Gregor Craigie.