Two North Vancouver high schools at highest possible risk of quake failure
Earthquake fears have pushed the replacement of two North Vancouver high schools to the top of the school district’s wish list this year.
The North Vancouver School District finalized its annual five-year capital plan last week, asking the province for, among other things, funding for the complete replacement of Argyle and Handsworth secondary schools.
Last month, portions of both schools were deemed “High-1,” denoting the highest possible risk of widespread and irreparable structure failure in the event of a quake. That’s according to a two-year study by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. and the University of B.C.’s civil engineering department.
At an admittedly conservative cost estimate of $35 million apiece, the school district rated the Argyle and Handsworth replacements as priorities No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, on its five-year funding plan submitted Oct. 15 to the province.
The replacements were preceded on the list by a $700,000 mechanical systems upgrade for Brooksbank elementary and $100,000 for a new school bus. For safety and cost-efficiency reasons, the B.C. education ministry mandates that mechanical and transportation needs must trump all other budgetary requests in every school district’s five-year plan.
Still, the Argyle ask may come as a surprise to some, since just this past May the province committed $122 million to seismically upgrade 14 of B.C.’s 152 high-risk schools. Among those in the lucky 10-percentile was the 52-year-old Argyle building. But the school board maintains the high cost of making the existing Argyle building quake-ready might make holding out for its full replacement the more financially sound option in the long term.
“When you look at that number — $122 million for 14 seismic projects — it seems like a large number but that’s around $8 million per project. That’s really not a lot of money for seismic upgrades,” said Ian Abercrombie, the North Van school district’s director of facilities and planning at a finance committee meeting last month.
“A replacement project for Argyle, we’re estimating, is probably going to cost the same as the [recently completed] replacement of Carson Graham [secondary] and that’s around $40 to $45 million.”
In an email to The Outlook last week, school district spokeswoman Victoria Miles said ongoing preliminary studies of Argyle show the cost of seismic upgrades “will be significant and may approach the costs of full replacement.”
Miles added that the replacement of Carson Graham began as a province-approved seismic upgrade before escalating into a full-replacement project once the financial and educational impacts of carrying out ongoing construction on occupied school wings and accommodating temporary classrooms were factored into the bottom line and the best value was considered.
The results of the Argyle studies are expected to be made public in the spring. In the meantime, Abercrombie said he expects the province to announce which items it will fund on the school district’s capital plan well before the May 14 election.
“Likely if we are going to be getting these capital projects it will be well before May but probably after January,” Abercrombie said. “So hopefully we’re going to get some new announcements early in the new year.”