Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools ranks as one of the school districts in need of the most number of seismic upgrades to its buildings.
According to the district’s May 2021 long-range facilities plan (LRFP), 36 of the school district’s 43 school facilities require a seismic upgrade. Not all of those facilities are currently open though some have been rented out or are used as swing space while other schools are in upgrade mode. Such is the case with Rutherford Elementary, which is the temporary home for Pleasant Valley Elementary students while their school undergoes a seismic upgrade.
The Ministry of Education’s seismic mitigation program funds retrofits and upgrades necessary to improve building safety during an earthquake.
According to the ministry’s June program progress report, which includes data up to March 2022, 197 schools have received seismic upgrades under the program, including Wellington Secondary; 30 are under construction, including Cilaire Elementary and Pleasant Valley Elementary; five are proceeding to construction; 14 are in business case development, including Ladysmith Intermediate; and 250, including 32 facilities in NLPS, are future priorities.
NLPS has approximately 14,700 students. For comparison, the Greater Victoria School District, which has 44 active schools and 20,000 students, has had 10 schools receive seismic upgrades under the program with 27 listed as future priorities. The Gulf Islands School District, home to 10 schools and 1,500 students, has had one school receive an upgrade with eight listed as future priorities. Only the Vancouver School District, home to 48,500 students, has more schools listed as future priorities than NLPS, with 46.
Seismic retrofit guidelines were updated in 2015 as a result of changes to the 2015 National Building Code, which addressed expectations for more intense shaking on Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii and in areas with soft soil, specifically Richmond, than previously assumed in the event of a Cascadia Fault subduction event. At that time one school in NLPS, Pauline Haarer, and seven in Greater Victoria that were previously mitigated had blocks in their buildings changed from low risk to high risk.
NLPS’s LRFP lists facilities in descending order of floor area assessed to have an H1 rating – Engineers and Geoscientists BC’s highest ranking – denoting structures with the highest risk of widespread damage or structural failure during an earthquake. Nanaimo District Secondary School and Gabriola Elementary are first and twenty-first on that list, respectively. Five of the schools listed do not have H1-assessed floor space.
In the spring, NLPS received the go-ahead from the province to proceed with developing a business case for Ladysmith Intermediate. The request was part of the district’s 2022-23 five-year capital plan submission, which also included requests for NDSS and Gabriola; however, they were not approved.
Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder