British Columbia

More funding needed to quake-proof B.C. schools, auditor general says

The B.C. government is not promising extra money to upgrade schools to withstand earthquakes, even though the auditor general has concluded the $1.5 billion committed three years ago is not enough.
B.C. Auditor General John Doyle says more money is needed for seismic upgrades at schools due to increasing construction and labour costs. ((CBC))

The B.C. government is not promising extra money to upgrade schools to withstand earthquakes, even though the auditor general has concluded the $1.5 billion committed three years ago is not enough.

Construction and labour costs have increased significantly since the seismic upgrade program was announced in March 2005, John Doyle said.

In his report released Thursday, Doyle said 32 school seismic upgrades have been completed, 31 more are underway, and another 17 have received approval to proceed with construction.

While there has been progress, much remains to be done before all 747 schools meet earthquake-proof standards, Doyle said.

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

Premier Gordon Campbell said Doyle's report is valuable but was prepared during a period when construction costs were rising. Those costs are now declining, he said.

"We're going to keep working … as quickly as we can, as economically as we can the seismic upgrading across the province," Campbell said after a luncheon Thursday.

He said seismic upgrades for schools are included in the government's plans to increase public infrastructure spending during the current economic downturn, but he made no promises about increasing funding.

Education Minister Shirley Bond said the government remains committed to completing seismic upgrading.

"We literally cannot predict what's going to happen next month with a great degree of certainty or accuracy, depending on the global economic circumstances," Bond told CBC News.

But Doyle said the ministry of education has not yet developed a model to deliver the program in co-operation with boards of education.

Opposition NDP education critic Norm Macdonald said the government is falling behind on its commitment to earthquake-proof B.C. schools.

"The report by the auditor general is clear — the Campbell government has not met its target to fast-track seismic upgrades for the 80 most at-risk schools in the province," he said.

"Their budget is unrealistic, and they have failed to adequately support and consult with boards of education in the process."

With files from the Canadian Press

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