Local and provincial officials staged a news conference on June 6 to announce funding for upgrades and new construction to make a pair of Ucluelet schools safer. (Government of B.C. photo)
Carol Sedgwick knew it was bound to happen eventually.
But Sedgwick, the principal of Ucluelet Secondary, was starting to seriously wonder when the provincial government would provide funds to make the school safer.
“We knew we were on the seismic funding list,” said Sedgwick, who has worked at the Ucluelet school for 22 years now, first as a teacher, then as a vice-principal and the last dozen years as its principal. “But the list has changed over the years because the criteria has changed.”
Sedgwick and other Uclulet school officials, however, are thrilled now that the British Columbia government has announced it will provide a total of $44.8 million for substantial upgrades to Ucluelet Secondary and Ucluelet Elementary.
“We often joked (funding) would happen the year after I retired,” said Sedgwick, adding she believes she’s 10-15 years away from the end of her working days.
The two Ucluelet schools include numerous Nuu-chah-nulth students from Vancouver Island communities in the province’s west coast. These students are primarily Ucluelet First Nation and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation members.
That’s because the nearest high schools are 100 kilometres away in Port Alberni, and up the coast in Ahousaht on Flores Island. And the nearest elementary school to Ucluelet is in Tofino, located 40 kilometres away.
Because Ucluelet is situated on a fault line, officials have been lobbying for more than a decade to upgrade local schools to make them modernized and thus safer for students in the event of a major earthquake.
“There has been concern for sure,” Sedgwick said. “And the dream has always been to have a new school or new schools.”
Ucluelet Elementary will undergo a complete seismic upgrade, which is expected to take until September of 2022 to finish. While work is taking place at this school, students will be able to use available space at Ucluelet Secondary to avoid as many distractions as possible to their education.
Meanwhile, Ucluelet Secondary will be undergoing seismic upgrades to portions of its school, including its gym and woodshop building. The school will also be getting a brand new section, which will include a music room, library and learning space for 250 students.
A Neighbourhood Learning Centre will also be built at the secondary school. This space will be utilized for child care programming. About 25 child care spaces are expected to be made available for members of the community.
“We will be working with the local community to have some input from them on this,” said Pam Craig, the chair of School District 70 (Alberni).
The goal is to have all work completed at Ucluelet Secondary by September of 2021.
Craig is pleased the provincial government has decided to step up with funds to improve the two Ucluelet schools.
“It’s very welcome news,” she said. “We have been working for probably more than 10 years to impress upon the Ministry of Education that west coast schools need to be safe.”
Craig added though she knew money would be forthcoming, she wasn’t quite sure how much. And the amount given is sufficient to rebuild and upgrade the facilities.
“We’ll make it work,” she said. “We’ll make sure we modernize as best as we can.”
Rob Fleming, the provincial Minister of Education, attended the Ucluelet news conference announcing the funding for the two local schools. Fleming said while his NDP party was the opposition, it frequently asked the ruling Liberal Party to provide additional funding for school upgrades.
“We’re now on track, making government 22 months ago,” he said. “Now we’ve been making seismic upgrade announcements every three months.”
Since taking power in September of 2017, Fleming’s party has approved more than $1.2 billion in school capital projects.
“We’ve got a real renaissance of school construction in British Columbia,” he said.