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Nanaimo schools high priority for seismic upgrades

Six Nanaimo schools are identified as high-priority for seismic upgrades following a reassessment of the seismic safety of B.C. schools – a decrease of three from a 2004 assessment.

The province released the new list of 152 high-priority schools last week. It includes Brechin, Cilaire, Departure Bay and Pleasant Valley elementary schools and North Cedar Intermediate School. None of the schools are included in the province's next round of upgrades, also announced last week.

The list does not include Wellington Secondary School – the district's highest priority for seismic upgrades – because it is one of 30 projects already supported by the Education Ministry and the district and ministry are working toward a formal project agreement.

The reassessment, which was conducted by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. and the University of B.C.'s department of civil engineering, has changed the status for about a dozen schools in the district, some going up in risk assessment and others going down.

The six schools in the high rating category require structural upgrades, although only Wellington is in the High 1 category, or at the highest risk of widespread damage or structural failure. The other five are rated High 3, where isolated failure of building elements such as walls are expected.

There are 25 schools rated as medium, two in the low rating and seven do not require any seismic mitigation.

Pete Sabo, the district's director of planning and operations, said the new list is good news for the district because the 2004 assessments listed four secondary schools, not including Wellington, and four elementary schools in the high risk category.

"It will definitely be less expensive," he said. "Less expensive is good, but really what the ministry is telling us is we have less high-risk schools."

Sabo said getting Nanaimo District, John Barsby, Woodlands and Ladysmith secondary schools off the high-priority list means total costs will go down – not only are there fewer schools in need of seismic upgrades, but the remaining schools are smaller in size.

School officials will now look into costs of upgrading the newly added high-priority schools and submit estimates to the province, he added.

Sabo said the ministry indicated it will start with the high-risk category 1 and 2 schools before funding the High 3 schools, so he's not sure when the five Nanaimo schools would get funding.

For Wellington, Sabo said the district must complete two reports, one focused on the structural issues and how they are to be repaired and another that describes an overall plan, including where the students will be housed during construction and an estimated total cost.

Once the reports are finished, the next step is signing a final project agreement, at which time the funds needed to complete the project would be released.

"We would hope within a year we've reached an agreement with the ministry and are moving to the construction phase," he said. "There's just too many unknowns at this point to start giving dates out. The ministry is encouraging us to proceed as quickly as is diligent."

The Wellington project previously went through two preliminary stages of planning and approval.

Upgrades were approved in 2005 as a standalone project, but were put on hold when the project was tied to a previous facilities renewal plan in 2007, in which the school was to be expanded as well as upgraded and another secondary school closed.

The project was put on hold again when trustees voted down that facilities renewal plan following the 2008 election.

A new facilities plan was approved in 2010 and when district staff met with Education Ministry officials last year, they were encouraged to submit an application to proceed to the next stage of the project – the steps that staff are now working on.

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