Nanaimo school district proposes seismic upgrade options to B.C. Ministry of Education, including building a new high school. FILE PHOTO

New NDSS is back on the list of school district capital plan requests

Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools pitches five-year capital plan, asking for expansion at 10 schools

A brand-new Nanaimo District Secondary School is the preferred pick to address the need for a seismic upgrade, a presentation on the school district’s proposed five-year capital plan shows.

Nanaimo school board has approved its annual five-year capital plan submission for the B.C. Ministry of Education to consider, which includes school expansions and new seismic work.

École Hammond Bay, an expansion project already supported by the province, and NDSS are the highest priorities in the proposed plan.

The Nanaimo high school’s seismic rating is now a High 1, along with Ladysmith Intermediate, which means the schools are at the highest risk of damage or structural failure if there’s an earthquake, the Ministry of Education website shows. Cilaire Elementary’s rating has become an H1 and H2.

Ratings still have to be peer reviewed, but Pete Sabo, district director of planning and operations, said the ministry wants to address H1 and H2 projects in a priority manner, which changes how the district looks at the schools in the capital plan. NDSS and Ladysmith Intermediate, previously in the plan for replacement, are in the No. 1 and 2 spots for seismic mitigation.

“There wasn’t much hope trying to get projects based on condition, so this is a little bit more optimistic for us,” said Sabo, at a school board meeting last week.

The school district has three options for a seismic project at NDSS, such as doing an upgrade for $110.7 million, a partial replacement of the building with upgrades for $90.5 million or building a new high school and demolishing the old for $70.9 million. The latter is the option favoured by the school district.

The school has capacity issues and there are a number of portables on site, according to Sabo, who said whenever the district enters into a capital project there are discussions with the ministry regarding appropriate school capacity.

The capital plan also includes 10 schools up for expansion, up from four last year.

Sabo told the News Bulletin the schools either have a space need now, like Dover Bay, or the district anticipates they’ll need the space in five years.

The Supreme Court decision on class size and composition, along with growth, has meant most, if not all, of surplus space has been used up, according to Sabo.

The project at Dover Bay, second on the priority list after École Hammond Bay, is to turn an incomplete space at the school into three classrooms, which can address growth, or allow portables to be relocated elsewhere in the district.

“It’s the equivalent of a three-room addition but within the school footprint itself,” said Sabo, who also pointed to a savings if the district can create space and free up portables, which average $250,000 each to acquire and make occupancy-ready.

Board chairman Steve Rae said the number of expansion projects articulates what the district faces and has faced for a long time, which he’s sure is the case for other school districts as well.

“It’s time to look after the kids and the buildings that the kids are in,” he said.

Discussion about expansion comes after a number of years of closure decisions, including at Woodlands Secondary and Rutherford and Woodbank elementaries.

Rae said the board made the best decision it could with the information it had, before the Supreme Court ruling and while enrolment was in decline.

“There are pockets of the city that are having a larger increase than others and you know most of the growth for young families seem to be in the south and we’ll continue to watch that as we move forward and if we have to make a different decision we will,” Rae said. “We made the right decision at the time, as difficult as it is and unpopular as they are, sometimes you have to do that.”

He said in the most recent budget, $4 million went back into the school district and that comes along with making difficult decisions.

The full capital plan presentation can be seen here.

Top five schools proposed to expand:

École Hammond Bay

Dover Bay Secondary

Cinnabar Valley Elementary

Forest Park Elementary

Learning Alternatives at the old Harewood Elementary


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