Jennifer Brand learned of the seismic risk of Cilaire Elementary after enrolling her child in kindergarten and wants to see the district inform parents at registration. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Parent raises awareness about seismic risk of Cilaire Elementary

Three Nanaimo elementaries await government funding for seismic upgrades

Dropping off her five-year-old son at Cilaire Elementary, known to need seismic upgrades, feels like a gamble to Nanaimo parent Jennifer Brand, who is frustrated by the lack of notification by the school district and now plans to raise awareness among parents.

Brand enrolled her son in kindergarten earlier this year, but what she didn’t know then was that the elementary school is one of three in the Nanaimo school district with a high seismic risk rating.

Brand found out about the risk from an after-school care provider and was “very surprised.”

“I knew it was an old school but having said that, I didn’t think I’d be sending my child to a school that was considered unsafe. It doesn’t go hand-in-hand with kindergarten Day 1 of taking my child to school,” said Brand, who said as a parent, having to make a conscious decision every morning to drive her son to school, knowing it’s unsafe, is difficult. “I am gambling with my son.”

Brand said she’s concerned she didn’t hear about the seismic risk from the school or school board and wants to see notification upon enrolment so that parents have a choice if they’re not comfortable with the risk. It’s one thing for there to be the issue of schools needing upgrades, the other is if people even know about it, said Brand.

She also wants to see action to get a share of more than $500 million the government has for seismic projects.

In the event of an earthquake, three Nanaimo schools classed as High 2 – Cilaire, Pleasant Valley and North Cedar Intermediate – are vulnerable and at high risk of widespread damage or structural failure, the B.C. Ministry of Education website shows. Upgrades for the H2 buildings have been in the school district’s capital plan since 2015 but the ministry hasn’t supported the projects.

The schools are among 155 listed by the province as being in a “business development stage.”

In an e-mail, the ministry stated that the school district had identified six high-risk schools when the second phase of the seismic mitigation program was announced in 2013 and the highest risk, Wellington and Pauline Haarer, have been completed. The focus is now on the remaining lower-risk schools in the district’s capital plan and the ministry is currently reviewing School District 68’s capital plan submission as part of the its capital planning cycle. Rutherford school is on the seismic list but not currently included in the district’s capital plan as it’s to be closed for the 2018-19 school year, it said.

Pete Sabo, Nanaimo school district’s director of planning and operations, said work is continuing with the ministry to understand if the business case has a weakness and if that’s why the project is being held up for approval, and to ensure the ministry is aware of local seismic needs and issues.

He said it’s been indicated to the district that the province is working to achieve upgrades for High 1s and High 2s, but that High 1s are more of a priority.

As for informing about seismic risk at enrolment, Dale Burgos, school district spokesman, said this one instance hasn’t been requested yet but it is something senior staff can take a look at and possibly add to some sort of package of information that could be available to parents at the time of registration or to have readily available at school.

Brand will attend the Cilaire parent advisory council meeting Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 2:30 p.m. to spread awareness and inquire about a committee to track Cilaire’s seismic upgrade and how to make it known the school needs to be upgraded among 154 others.

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