Ministry says school district must foot quake repair bills

The province wants the Richmond School District to dip into its own back pocket if trustees want local elementary and high schools made safer.

Richmond board of education chair Donna Sargent said she first heard about the province's edict through the media last week, after which the district received a letter from the Ministry of Education.

"They are abdicating their responsibility," Sargent said.

Sargent spoke to Education Minister Peter Fassbender who said Victoria doesn't have enough money to fund seismic upgrading projects.

According to Sargent, Fassbender said that if the district wants the work to go ahead, trustees will have to bring 50 per cent of the money to the table.

"He's suggesting that none of our seismic (projects) will be done then."

Sargent was critical of the ministry for its governance approach.

"We're supposed to be co-governors, together. We should be trying to work this out together," she said.

Instead, the province is opting to dictate to districts what to do with their money, without any discussions.

The district recently sold the 13-acre Steveston Secondary School site to developer Polygon for $41.125 million.

But that money is already earmarked for the purchase of land in downtown Richmond, where the City of Richmond is planning to grow the population around the Canada Line with high-density residential projects.

In anticipation that families will be raised in these condos and townhomes, the district is forecasting the need for a school, and is committing the money from the Steveston Secondary sale for that purpose, along with an addition to Hamilton elementary school.

"We shouldn't even be buying land for our city centre school," Sargent said, noting that the province has always been fully responsible for this.

Sargent is worried about the fate of the 23 seismically-challenged school buildings in the city.

"Boards are not land barons," she said.

Instead of a letter of direction, Sargent said the district would have preferred that discussions be held with the ministry, perhaps by striking a committee.

Sargent has also requested a meeting with the treasury board.

"They clearly don't understand how school budgets work."


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