The Fraser-Cascade school district is considering the closure of C.E. Barry due to the cost of required seismic mitigation.
More than 100 parents, teachers and students packed into the commons room at Hope secondary on Tuesday night to find out the district’s plan for the future of the 42-year-old middle school. Trustees voted in favour of pursuing a public consultation process starting in June.
“This process was pushed on the board. Everybody would have been satisfied to upgrade the building,” said secretary treasurer Natalie Lowe-Zucchet during her presentation. “It’s been a fairly lengthy process and it’s not something we’re taking lightly.”
On May 12, 2012, the government announced $122 million of new capital funding to carry out structural upgrades for 14 school with high seismic risk. C.E. Barry was identified as a vulnerable structure at high risk of widespread damage or structural collapse, likely not reparable after a major seismic event. Lowe-Zucchet said as the process progressed and ministry budgets tightened, the government required more information. The school board was directed to focus on seismic upgrades to ensure safety, not school renewal, and pursue the lowest cost option.
Engineering consultants were hired to produce a seismic project identification report for C.E Barry, with solutions for structural upgrades to address life safety. The detailed cost estimate for the work came in at $4 million.
Due to excess school capacity, the ministry asked the district to examine the costs for additions and demolition in comparison to maintaining the school. In particular, the government requested a review of the ongoing operational costs and current life cycle costs. The district has to prove there’s a need for C.E. Barry, despite declining enrolment.
A number of options are being considered, including the possibility of transferring Grade 7 students to Hope secondary and Grades 5 and 6 to Coquihalla elementary. Lowe-Zucchet said the government would consider funding a four-room addition to Coquihalla elementary to accommodate students if C.E. Barry is closed.
While the addition to Coquihalla is the most cost-effective, Lowe-Zucchet acknowledged there are financial, educational and emotional costs with all the options.
However, the closure of C.E. Barry is projected to save the district $200,000 annually in operating costs, which could be used for student programming or additional recreational facilities. There also wouldn’t be any teaching positions lost, added Lowe-Zucchet.
A number of parents and teachers in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting were emotional and frustrated with the school’s uncertain future. Many stressed the importance of C.E. Barry in educational development, relationship building, and transitioning students to high school. Others expressed the need to give the community time to process a closure, and not make any change for the 2014-15 school year.
“If this school gets closed, I will accept that as a personal failure on all of your parts,” C.E. Barry teacher Aaron Poulin told the school board and district administration.
“You have not found a way to keep that school safe and keep our kids in the community that we have worked hard to develop over the years. We understand all the numbers and the finances, but education is losing money every day. It’s about the kids. I challenge you to find a way to make this school viable and safe.”