Province dragging its feet on seismic upgrades for schools, says NDP

The provincial government is taking too long to finish seismic upgrades on schools in B.C., according to the NDP.
NDP Leader Carole James says the provincial government needs speed up seismic upgrades in schools. ((CBC))

The provincial government is taking too long to finish seismic upgrades on schools in B.C., according to the NDP.

In 2005, the Liberal government committed $1.5 billion over 15 years to making schools safer in the event of an earthquake.

Of the hundreds of schools targeted for upgrades, 80 were deemed high risk and declared a priority. The deadline to upgrade those schools was 2008.

According to the Ministry of Education's website, as of Sept. 3, 2008 seismic upgrades had been completed on 25 schools, another 27 are under construction, and 22 schools have received approval to proceed with construction.

Provincial NDP Leader Carole James said Wednesday those upgrades need to be completed.

"We're standing here today with less than a fifth of those schools being completed," she said. "This is a government and a premier who has not a thought about finding a 43 per cent [pay] increase for his ministers, but he can't find the money to fast-track seismic upgrading."

Premier Gordon Campbell shot back with criticisms of his own.

"By the end of this year there will be almost 100 seismic upgrading projects in the process, underway," he said. "It's a little rich for a party that sat there for 10 years and did nothing to say that we're neglecting education. We are not."

Premier Gordon Campbell says seismic-upgrading projects are well underway. ((CBC))

Seismic upgrades in the province need to be fast tracked, according to Tracy Monk with Families for School Seismic Safety, the group that lobbied the government for a comprehensive upgrading strategy.

Monk said international disasters such as the massive earthquake in China this summer should act as an impetus for faster change in B.C.

"I can certainly see there has been an acceleration in the pace. More is happening and I credit the government for putting more mechanisms in place, but we are certainly slow if we are [to] achieve the commitment of 2019," Monk said.

Rising construction costs have also added pressure to school districts, as they try to execute the plan to make these buildings safer on time and on budget.