Workers on a scissor lift examine the building envelope on south side of the SD72 offices.

SD72 office renovations raise questions

One of the questions that keeps coming up during the current public consultation about the possible closure of two local elementary schools is why School District 72 (SD72) is considering closing schools while their administration office is getting a makeover.

“We can appreciate the fact that, optically, it doesn’t look great,” says SD72 Communication and Community Engagement Officer Jennifer Patrick. “But this really was timing that was dictated to us and it’s necessary work.”

They also want to reassure the public that the work being done on the district offices isn’t cosmetic, and it’s not coming out of money that could possibly be spent elsewhere. In fact, not only is it not coming out of the district’s budget, it’s not even coming from the Ministry of Education.

The renovation is the result of a settlement reached through the courts that saw BC Housing attempt to recoup costs from shoddy construction work that was done in the Lower Mainland and here on Vancouver Island between about 1985 and the early 2000s.

Many people know it as the “leaky condo crisis.” It is said to be the most costly reconstruction of housing stock in Canadian history.

“It was well-publicized on the condo side of things, but it also impacted school facilities,” says SD72 Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Patrick. “We had a number of buildings that failed due to work done during that period,” he says, and the administration office is the last of the district’s buildings to be renovated from the pool of money attained by BC Housing in a settlement during the legal fallout from that crisis.

Everyone from architects to individual contractors to building inspectors were included in the lawsuit, and the legal proceedings took a number of years. Once the settlement was reached, BC Housing received the money and began to administer it based on the buildings affected.

SD72 received money from the settlement to fix Phoenix (2010), Ocean Grove (2011), Georgia Park (2013), and now the School District Offices, after paying out of pocket to do the work needed on Sayward Elementary before the settlement was finalized, because that work needed immediate attention.

The secretary-treasurer says the district wasn’t even certain the work on the administration building was ever going to get done.

“We knew it was on the list, but when they contacted us, it was quite a surprise,” he says. “I guess we could have put it off, but when you get slotted in – if there’s one thing we’ve learned is that when someone wants to give you money to have work done, you’d better take it.”

Aside from siding and window replacement, the district is making, “some wheelchair accessibility improvements that we’ve been able to incorporate into the design,” says Manager of Operations Steve Woods, but there really isn’t much else being done. They have $1.125 million with which to work, so, as Woods says, “we’ll do whatever work the market can do (for that amount), and that’ll be that.”

“We’re not getting new paint and new carpets and things like that,” Jennifer says. “This is to repair leaks and do window replacements for insulation purposes and things like that. It’s for structural issues.

“The biggest thing is the energy efficiency that the new windows are going to afford us.”

“Carbon footprint reductions have actually benefitted us significantly,” Kevin adds, “and what we can save there, we can actually put back into the classrooms.”

And that isn’t the only way the renovation could bring long-term financial benefit to the district.

“It not only addresses the state of the building for the workers that are in the building right now, but under the Facility Plan, when the board looks at disposal of properties during Phase 2, they could very well look at the configuration again in terms of office spaces,” Jennifer says. “The better we maintain our buildings, the better we’re maintaining our assets in terms of their market value.

“Should the board ever want to (sell the building) down the road, the better shape it’s in, the better it is for the district.”

And should the board decide to sell, it would likely be a quicker and possibly more profitable sale on the market than other properties they could consider liquidating.

“This building is much more desirable for prospective purchasers than, say, a school,” Kevin agrees.