Seismic upgrades ongoing in regional schools 

No schools in Sea to Sky School District on provincial high priority list, but most still need upgrades

The 3.3-magnitude earthquake that shook Squamish on August 11 was minor compared to the larger quake expected to one day hit the Pacific Northwest, but it highlighted a need to ensure the safety of the region's most vulnerable residents - children. While schools in Whistler and Pemberton are considered safer because of their location away from the likely epicenter of a sub-oceanic quake, Squamish schools still face a litany of upgrades to make them seismically sound.

"Squamish is where all our older schools are, so it's obviously the more vulnerable and needed the most work," said Rick Hume, director of facilities and services for School District 48 (SD48). "But we have schools here that have been seismically restrained or upgraded."

In 2004 the province released a list ranking B.C. schools based on their structural integrity. At the time, Howe Sound Secondary - the oldest school in Squamish built in the 1940s - was the only school in SD48 placed on the high priority list. The rest fell into the moderate/high category, including Myrtle Philip School in Whistler. Only Squamish Elementary School was categorized as a low priority. Since then, Howe Sound Secondary has been partially seismically upgraded but the school district is still waiting for funding to complete structural improvements to a part of the school renovated in 1974. Don Ross Secondary, built in 1974, was seismically upgraded in 2003. Squamish Elementary, built in 1957, was upgraded in 2002 and Garibaldi Highlands Elementary has had partial seismic additions that meet the provincial code. Brackendale Elementary, built in 1996, was constructed to the province's seismic code. Valleycliffe Elementary, a one-storey building built in 1974, hasn't been seismically updated but is not on the province's to-do list.

"We're sitting in the medium zone right now, we've had our share of seismic upgrades to the schools that were highly rated and now we're sitting at the medium level while they address all the highly rated schools in the Vancouver area," said Hume, adding that each seismic upgrade typically costs between $1.4 to $1.8 million.

Due to funding restrictions in 2000, SD48 decided to improve the structure of only the gyms at Mamquam Elementary and Stawamus Elementary, both built in 1956.

"We were given a block of money to do some seismic upgrading and the money was inefficient to actually do a school so we ended up doing two of our older schools' gyms only, two-storey sections we felt would not fare well in a seismic event," continued Hume. "Our rationale behind that was that because it was the only two storey part of the school, it would be a holding area because you could actually put the whole school in a gym."

Only schools built after the mid-'90s incorporate structural components designed to handle an earthquake; anything built prior to that likely needs improvements. In Whistler, a seismic upgrade was completed at Myrtle Phillip in 2009, even though the school was relatively new - built in 1993. Both Pemberton Secondary and Signal Hill Elementary were built to meet seismic codes and the district completed a seismic roof upgrade to Blackwater Creek School in D'arcy this summer.

Until around 2005, SD48 received funding of $30,000 year from the Ministry of Education to do non-structural seismic upgrades, such as restraining hot water tanks, boilers, gas lines and light fixtures. Though that money dried up, the district still directs $10,000 to $15,000 of a $900,000 annual facility grant to keep those objectives up to date.

Though the work is ongoing, Hume expects the remaining seismic structural improvements to be finished within the decade.

"I would say in the next five to eight years we should have them all addressed," he said.




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