Three more schools tagged for seismic upgrades

Education minister notes new research and technology

Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, Dr. George M. Weir and Sir Wilfred Grenfell are the latest Vancouver schools to be approved for seismic upgrades.

The three are among a total of 14 seismic projects moving forward in school districts across B.C., education minister George Abbott announced at a press conference at the University of British Columbia May 11.

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The school districts will work with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. (APEGBC) and the Ministry of Education's seismic mitigation program to determine "scope, schedule and budgets for the projects before the ministry approves individual project agreements."

The schools are top-ranked for upgrades based on an updated assessment of seismic safety risk by a technical team led by APEGBC working with partners at UBC.

The re-assessment identified 152 schools that have at least one high-risk building section that needs to be fixed. The estimate for structurally upgrading all 152 high-priority schools is $1.3 billion. The first 14 projects will cost an estimated $122 million. "In applying the latest research, engineers took into account more detailed information than ever before such as a school's location within the B.C. seismic zones, different earthquake types, local soil types, different building types and the varying level of earthquake intensity," said Abbott. "The new research and technology gives us a far better idea of how our schools will perform in an earthquake and provides clear technical guidelines on how to tackle safety issues."

Efforts to upgrade seismically unsound school buildings have been ongoing for years. More than 800 schools in high-risk earthquake zones were assessed in 2004. In 2005, the provincial government launched a $1.5 billion plan to seismically upgrade 749 schools over 15 years.

Abbott maintains the provincial government has made "great strides" with 137 key projects completed or near completion. For the updated assessment, engineers evaluated the more than 500 remaining schools that had been previously identified for potential seismic funding to reveal the 152 highpriority schools.

The other schools that remain from the 2004 list have building sections classified as low or medium risk, which means safety improvements can be met through non-structural work or through school districts regular capital renewal processes, according to Abbott.

Andy Mill, chair of the APEGBC seismic peer review committee, said the seismic work is ongoing. "I would be lying to you if I said that we know everything now as we sit here. There will be feedback as we do these 14 [school] buildings. We've developed a technical review board that will be reviewing this so as we learn more, as we do more, we'll continue to get better at it."

Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus said it's no secret that Vancouver has dozens of schools at serious risk of damage in an earthquake.

"We're still also waiting for our project approvals on General Gordon, Queen Mary, Strathcona, and now Ecole Bilingue," she said. "But it's good to see [the provincial government is] also looking further into the list and bringing more on stream. But it is something we do need to speed up." Twitter: @Naoibh

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