Deferred capital project funding by the Ministry of Education has not affected plans to proceed with building a new secondary school for the Westside.
Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public Schools superintendent/CEO, said media reports earlier this week revealed the ministry has placed seven capital projects on hold because of the financial impacts of the pandemic and last year’s widespread flooding.
Kaardal said he has read the media reports of the funding cutback, but the ministry has given no indication to Central Okanagan Public Schools the new Westside secondary project might be included among those seven deferred projects, which have not yet been publicly identified by the ministry officials.
Taken one step further, it also creates some doubt about the level of government commitment to school capital budget requests for the coming school year.
This week, the Central Okanagan Board of Education approved an updated five-year capital spending priority plan, which all school districts annually submit to the Ministry of Education.
Among those priorities were a new middle/secondary school in Glenmore, an elementary school in the Wilden area and an upgrade of Rutland Middle School.
The Vancouver School District complained this week the province has refused to fund any new major capital project for the 2022-23 school year and turned down seismic repairs to three schools considered at the highest-possible risk of collapse in an earthquake.
The Mission school board also has voiced dismay that an $87 million project to replace Mission Senior Secondary in the Fraser Valley community has been shelved indefinitely.
Mission school board chair Tracy Loffler said a business case for the new school will now have to be resubmitted, which will push the project back two years.
“We were made a promise,” Loffler said. “We would just like to get this project on the go.”
The ministry released a statement Monday confirming the seven projects being deferred, calling it a necessary step to prioritize 11 urgent school capital projects, “including replacing facilities deemed unsafe for long-term use and construction projects to create new student seats in areas seeing high enrolment.”
The new Westside Secondary is one of 79 school capital projects across B.C. where funding has been approved that are in design, construction, or where enough of the work has been completed that it’s safe for students to occupy the building, the ministry said.
The 2022-23 provincial budget included $3.1 billion over the next three years to build and expand schools to accommodate growth, seismically upgrade schools and maintain existing schools.
BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon called the deferral announcement “appalling” and pointed the finger of blame at the province’s controversial plan to spend a billion dollars for a new Royal BC Museum in Victoria.
Falcon told Postmedia News the museum plan going forward means other public spending projects will have to be “sacrificed.”
Green Part leader Adam Olsen said if the government continues to insist it can replace the museum and make schools safe for children “then they need to demonstrate as a government that they’re doing that, they’re able to do both.”