BY <dc:creator>KEN MACQUEEN</dc:creator> • The neighbourhood school should be a source of pride and symbol of stability. Unfortunately, in dozens of communities in seismically unstable British Columbia, schools are also a source of worry. A government audit found that 311 of 864 schools in earthquake-prone areas of the province are at high risk of severe damage in a moderate to strong earthquake. Hundreds more are vulnerable to lesser damage.
Two years ago, Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government made an election promise to correct years of inaction with a $1.5-billion program to upgrade 700 substandard schools within 15 years. Some of the most fragile schools would be repaired by 2008, said Tom Christensen, then education minister. “We’re fast-tracking seismic projects at 80 high-priority schools so that students will be protected as soon as possible.”
Since then, there’s been little evidence of urgency, accomplishment or even a coherent plan, says Tracy Monk, a Vancouver family doctor and a founding director of Families for School Seismic Safety. So far, ministry figures show just four schools have been upgraded and construction continues on seven others. Another 48 haven’t progressed beyond fea-
sibility studies. No work has started on any of the 16 Vancouver schools at high risk—including a school attended by one of Monk’s children. Seattle, in the same earthquake zone, will have completed a US$l-bil-
lion safety upgrade of all schools by 2010.
B.C.’s current Education Minister Shirley Bond has said the work is proceeding as quickly as possible. Monk says the 15-year commitment seems a “hollow” exercise in wishful thinking.
The province has already upgraded bridges, tunnels and prisons. The legislature in Victoria is also scheduled for seismic repairs. Monk calls it unacceptable that prisons have a higher priority than schools. Her organization is trying to press the issue with government, without unduly raising the fears of parents and children. The government is gambling a major quake won’t happen soon, she says. “How much more Russian roulette are we willing to play?” M
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