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Seismic upgrade set for Wellington

Education Minister Don McRae, left, and Jamie Brennan, Nanaimo school board chairman, sign off on seismic upgrades to Wellington Secondary School while staff and students look on. - JENN McGARRIGLE/The News Bulletin
Education Minister Don McRae, left, and Jamie Brennan, Nanaimo school board chairman, sign off on seismic upgrades to Wellington Secondary School while staff and students look on.
— image credit: JENN McGARRIGLE/The News Bulletin

Long-awaited seismic renovations at Wellington Secondary School are moving forward.

Education Minister Don McRae made the announcement Friday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, where Nanaimo school district’s first-ever in-service day for all district employees was being held.

The province is putting $22.6 million towards the $24.6-million project, with the remainder coming from the district’s restricted funds.

“This is the most high-risk school in the district,” said Jamie Brennan, school board chairman. “I’m so happy that we’re now going to be able to say that it’s a safe school in a few short years. It’s been a long time coming.”

McRae said the catastrophic results from earthquakes in other parts of the world have reiterated the importance of preparing for such events here.

“Earthquakes are just something we must prepare for with seismic upgrades like this one,” he said.

Wellington is the only school in the district in the High 1 category, or at the highest risk of widespread damage or structural failure in the event of an earthquake.

The district initially received preliminary approval for the upgrades at Wellington in 2005, but in 2007, it was tied to the previous facilities renewal plan, which was then voted down in 2008.

The old plan called for an expansion of the school as well as the upgrade so that another high school in the district could be closed.

A bid to fast-track the upgrade before the new plan was finished was rejected by the province in early 2010, but then in 2011, ministry staff encouraged district staff to submit an application for final funding approval.

Wellington consists of six sections – one central block that houses the school library and five outer blocks that house classrooms, shops, a gym and administrative spaces. Five of the blocks require seismic upgrading, including demolition and replacement of one classroom block, and the roof over the central block will be replaced with a lightweight alternative.

Pete Sabo, the district’s director of planning and operations, said the plan is to start by building a new section onto the school that will replace the block that needs to be demolished and with the new space, students can be moved around the school as other blocks are upgraded.

Paul Kim, a Grade 12 student at Wellington, said it is good news that the school will soon be a safer place.

“It’s not something that comes up very often, but it’s always something at the back of our minds … what if?” he said.

Brennan said the project will likely break ground this summer and estimated completion date is fall of 2016.

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