British Columbia·Interactive

155 'high risk' B.C. schools still have no plans for seismic upgrades

In the recent seismic mitigation program update in August, the province reported 155 schools in earthquake-prone areas that are considered high risk have no scheduled upgrades planned.
Richard McBride school in New Westminster is one of 155 public schools in B.C. that's considered high risk in the event of an earthquake but has no current approved plans for upgrades. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Update — July 8, 2020: This story originally had an interactive map of schools in B.C. showing which ones were on the upgrade list. But Google stopped supporting the fusion tables on which data for the map was based in December 2019, so the map was removed.

The collapse of a school in Mexico City after Tuesday's magnitude 7.1 earthquake, leaving dozens dead, is a harsh reminder of the slow progress B.C. is making in its effort to complete seismic upgrades on 346 high risk public schools.

In the recent seismic mitigation program update in August, the province reported 155 schools in earthquake-prone areas that are considered high risk have no scheduled upgrades planned.

Since the program began, $1.5 billion has been spent on upgrades, and 165 schools have been completed. Fourteen schools are now under construction and 12 have construction dates scheduled.

'It makes me sick to my stomach'

David Black is a parent of two nine year olds attending Grade 4 at Richard McBride school in New Westminster. He's troubled by the lack of action when it comes to improving the school, which has been labelled among the most vulnerable in the province. 

Richard McBride is one of the schools with no planned seismic overhaul date; it's labelled "in business case development stage."

"Seeing what's happened in Mexico and knowing that here in the Lower Mainland, we're likely to have an earthquake of similar size at some point, it terrifies me when I think about that," said Black, who is also president of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union.

Union president David Black is the father of two students at Richard Bride school in New Westminster, which is due for seismic upgrades. (Christer Waara/CBC)

"Knowing that my kids are here and the building is likely to collapse, it makes me sick to my stomach, quite frankly."

Black and his family moved into the neighbourhood nine years ago and quickly began looking into seismic issues at the school.

"We've been watching while the district has asked for capital funds … and in all of the time our kids have been here — our oldest child has now left the school — those funds have never been approved, and so the school still sits here unsafe, today," he said.

Plans to accelerate upgrades

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said the government is taking the issue seriously and plans to add funds to hasten the school upgrades.

"Since day one, after being sworn in as government, we've been reaching out and working with school districts to get their ideas on how to fast track seismic approvals. These are investments that we want to make, in tandem with school districts, to make all schools safe for schools and staff in the province of British Columbia," said Fleming on Wednesday.

"The previous government's record is well known — it was atrocious. After 16 years, barely half of the schools are upgraded," he said.

Fleming didn't offer specific funding details or a timeline.

The education ministry currently has $560 million allocated to high-risk seismic projects in its three-year capital plan.

Of B.C.'s 1,566 public schools, 346 are included in the seismic mitigation program. The province's 353 independent schools aren't included.

With files from Anita Bathe and Richard Zussman

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