As school boards across B.C. brace for cuts in the provincial budget being tabled Tuesday afternoon, expensive upgrades to make Vancouver schools better able to withstand earthquakes are expected to go ahead as planned.
Districts throughout the province are already facing potential school closures because of tight operating costs, and Finance Minister Colin Hansen said on Monday the budget would likely contain "belt-tightening" and cuts to operating budgets.
But at the same time, major improvement projects and seismic upgrading are underway in Vancouver, and two new schools are planned for the UBC area.
Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus admits the new spending appears to be in direct contradiction to the belt-tightening policies.
Bacchus said eight schools in the district are getting much-needed seismic upgrades. Seven of the eight of the projects have already been approved, at a cost of approximately $190 million.
But Bacchus said the district is also facing possible closures.
"Enrollment is a challenge," she said. "We do have pockets of the city where we do have clusters of schools. You might have six schools, but you could accommodate all the students in five."
Bacchus said the contrast between spending in Vancouver and belt-tightening elsewhere comes because money for upgrades and new schools is completely separate from operating budgets.
She also said the seismic upgrades are desperately needed, as some of the schools who will be getting them are close to 100 years old and would not withstand an earthquake.
"We've seen, just in the last couple of months, a couple of devastating earthquakes in Haiti and in Chile, and we are also in a high seismic risk zone," she said.
"It could very well be the case here that in the future, we are hit with a strong enough earthquake that could cause catastrophic damage to some of these schools, so it is critical that we get on with making them safe."
Meanwhile, Prince George School Board chair Lyn Hall said that district is dealing with its own contradictions.
A brand new secondary building is set to open this spring, but the district is also looking at shutting down and restructuring more than a dozen schools in the region.
Hall said he's hoping the new budget will include an increase in the rural school supplement grant from the Ministry of Education.