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Trustees approve new secondary school in Courtenay

The Comox Valley Board of Education unanimously voted in favour of the school district's 2013 Five Year Capital Plan — which includes replacing G.P. Vanier Secondary School.

School district secretary treasurer Russell Horswill told trustees during Tuesday's board meeting the cost to replace the school would be about $44.5 million. This project is listed as the district's No. 1 capital project priority in the plan, which will now be sent off to the Ministry of Education.

Vanier was built in the 1960s and was one of 14 B.C. schools chosen for seismic upgrading projects by the Ministry of Education back in May, but Horswill noted the cost for the seismic upgrade alone is now estimated at just over $23 million.

"This (seismic upgrade) is a fairly extensive project and it's in excess of half the cost of a new school to simply deal with the seismic work," he said.

"Is it adequate to just do a seismic job and hope to get 40 more years out of that school? Not likely."

When the seismic upgrade approval was announced in the spring, Horswill noted an estimated cost of $13 million had been sent to the Ministry a couple of years ago. However, over the summer, a complete review of the school was completed, and a further $10 million was tacked onto the earlier estimate.

After the review, four options were outlined in a Project Identification Report (PIR) — a seismic upgrade only, a renovation and seismic upgrade, a partial replacement which would retain the shop area, or a 1,250 capacity replacement school.

The report also notes much of the school's HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) infrastructure should be replaced, among other things. The cost of a mechanical upgrade, which would bring the school in line with current codes and standards, is estimated at just over $4.5 million.

Horswill noted the Ministry approved the school for a seismic upgrade — not a new school — and the request for a new school is "somewhat at odds with the seismic project." However, he added the school district should submit the seismic PIR for $23 million as the Ministry requested, and submit the capital plan PIR suggesting a new school is the best option.

He pointed out district administrative staff have been in contact with the Ministry about what should be done at Vanier, and will continue to discuss what the best long-term option is for the school.

"This may require some thinking outside the box," said Horswill. "The other question too is now that it's a $23-million project, are we already outside of the box?"

He explained the Ministry has about $122 million set aside for the seismic upgrade projects, which is supposed to be split between the 14 schools, making a $23-million share for Vanier possibly "out of the box."

Superintendent Sherry Elwood pointed out there's only so long a building will last with upgrades.

"There's just a time where you can get to a place where you can only fix something so many times," she said, adding even with a seismic upgrade to fix one component of the building, it's still an old building. "You fix all that up and the other part of the building is, no matter how much you paint it up, it's still 50 years old and so we're just going to be in this position 10 years down the road."

Three other capital projects were included in the capital plan in order of priority: a mechanical upgrade at Miracle Beach Elementary School worth over $1.1 million; a mechanical upgrade at Royston Elementary School worth nearly $800,000; and a building envelope at Cumberland Junior Secondary School worth over $2.6 million.

Including the proposed project at Vanier, the school district will make a total capital project submission of over $49 million to the Ministry of Education.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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