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Short-term school seismic upgrades needed now: parent council

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DPAC says schools that aren't top priority for the Ministry of Education could receive short-term solutions

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – In the wake of a deadly earthquake that shook Mexico City, causing a school to collapse, trapping and killing students and teachers, a concerned parent group says there’s immediate action that can be done to prevent a similar tragedy from happening to Vancouver schools ahead of full seismic upgrades.

District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) says any schools are that not top priority for the Ministry of Education could receive short-term solutions to prevent schools from collapsing at least long enough for students and staff to escape.

“There would be infrastructure that would be put in place that the school would not collapse. It would not, as we’ve seen unfortunately in Mexico, this notion that a school pancakes,” DPAC chair Rob Peregoodoff said. “I think we have to change our language. It’s not an if, it’s a when.”

DPAC supports a Vancouver School Board (VSB) district management staff plan that created a list of 13 schools that should be a top priority for seismic upgrades and receive those upgrades in the first two years of the Ministry of Education’s 2018/19 Five-Year Capital Plan. The other 44 schools requiring upgrades would be completed for the next nine years.

“We would all want all of our schools to go through a complete earthquake retrofitting but we do have to have conversations to make sure it’s feasible, and in some cases it may just not be.” Peregoodoff said.

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The plan, which was presented to both DPAC and VSB chair Dianne Turner in June, still needs to go before the province.

“We’re just waiting for the Ministry (of Education) to sign off and to authorize the work to begin,” Peregoodoff said.

In 2004, the previous Liberal government pledged to seismically upgrade all high-risk B.C. schools by 2020. The deadline was subsequently pushed back to 2030.

The current NDP government’s election platform promised to speed up the process, but did not provide a specific timeline.

“The safety of British Columbians is a top priority for our government,” Minister of Education Rob Fleming said in a written statement. “Our government is committed to accelerating the school seismic mitigation program to make sure all our schools are safe for students and teachers. We are working with school boards, and local municipal officials to meet an ambitious timeline, so we can get schools upgraded quickly.”