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The Globe and Mail

Quakeproofing 48 schools in Vancouver would cost $618-million

Joseph Kim takes cover under his desk during an earthquake drill at Hollyburn Elementary School in West Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 26, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press

Quakeproofing nearly 50 Vancouver schools would cost about $618-million and full upgrades could amount to about $1.1-billion, a consultant's report concludes.

The draft report, prepared by Coriolos Consulting for the Vancouver School Board, looked at seismic risks of older schools and assessed the price to seismically upgrade, renovate or replace them, including more than a dozen with high heritage value.

The report, begun in 2009, identified 48 schools in the district of 100-plus-schools that have at least one vulnerable structure and do not have any capital projects underway.

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While upgrades are planned for schools that were found in an earlier report to be at risk, the process is moving slowly and on a piecemeal basis, Vancouver School Board chairwoman Patti Bacchus said.

"Ideally, it should have been done – it should have been done five years ago," Ms. Bacchus said on Wednesday. "Each time we send engineers out, they come back and say, 'Yes, there is very high risk' – we need to get on with it."

The report looked at three options: seismic-only upgrades; full upgrades that would involve seismic work and general maintenance; and the replacement of schools. The board is working on plans for upgrades to Strathcona Elementary, Gordon Elementary and Queen Mary Elementary and has submitted a request for project approval for Kitsilano Secondary. Including those projects, the board will have upgraded or replaced 34 schools since 1996.

With the report in hand, the board has asked staff to work with the ministry and local stakeholders to come up with next steps.

In 2005, B.C. announced a 15-year, $1.5-billion program to provide seismic upgrades to schools throughout the province.

In a 2008 report, B.C. Auditor General John Doyle said the original budget would not be enough to fix all the schools included in the ministry's plan and that the government needed a strategy to deal with construction price increases. The auditor general also recommended that the education ministry integrate seismic upgrading into its long-term capital planning. That hasn't happened and projects are being approved on a case-by-case basis, Ms. Bacchus said.

Nearly 750 schools in 39 districts throughout the province were identified as requiring seismic upgrades.

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As of April, 2011, 134 projects were complete, under construction or near construction, according to an education ministry progress report. Eighty-three new schools built in the province since 2001 are seismically sound.

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National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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