Hands shot up when Education Minister Peter Fassbender posed the question: what do you do if an earthquake hits? Get under a table, said the Grade 2 and 3 kids at Sangster elementary, and protect your head.
Earthquake drills are routine at schools in Greater Victoria, and when the big one hits, students at Sangster now have an added level of protection. What was once a four-classroom annex constructed of cinderblock and built in the 1960s has received a $2.1 million seismic upgrade.
“A lot of people have worked really hard at making the school safe for each and every one of you, and now the building is safer to protect each and every one of you,” Fassbender told a class during a media event on Thursday.
Classes of Sangster students have spent the past year camped in the library and computer room, and a Grade 6 class walked to a portable at nearby Dunsmuir middle school, as the bones of the annex were reenforced with steel and modern building materials. Principal Maureen Lauren said students and teachers took the inconvenience in stride.
“The teachers and kids were phenomenal. Nobody complained, not even the children who had to walk back and forth (to Dunsmuir),” she said. “Everyone has been so gracious and positive through construction. Staff and students went without essentials in the school, but we’re back now.”
Lauren herself has inadvertently made a career out of shepherding students through construction and upgrades. Before Sangster, she worked through construction at Happy Valley elementary. “I said, ‘If you want a building reconstructed, put me there.’ I was joking,” she said. “This is my fourth.”
The majority of the one-level Sangster school didn’t need seismic reenforcement due to its wood frame. “This is the newest part of the school,” said SD 62 superintendent Jim Cambridge, standing in the annex. “The irony is the school built with 1950s construction with wood is not at (seismic) risk. The newer part needed upgrading. The old part is just fine.
“The building is safer, but its also a lot cleaner, more hygienic,” he said. “They replaced the 40 year old floor and gave it a fresh coat of paint. You can see out the windows now.”
Fassbender spent part of the morning playing basketball with a class of kids and toured the modern modular classroom installed at Sangster to make space for all-day kindergarten. Despite the recent high-profile court ruling regarding teachers’ collective bargaining rights and revelations that the province provoked teachers into striking in 2012, Fassbender said visits to schools are always cordial.
“I respect every teacher at every school,” he said. “It’s never uncomfortable. I love meeting teachers and students. Everyone is respectful and never disrespectful.”
Sangster’s annex building became SD62’s No. 1 priority to upgrade once the province announced it would replace aging Belmont secondary. The district is gearing up for a major seismic retrofit of Dunsmuir middle school, scheduled for 2014-15, in what could be an $8 million project. Ruth King and Willway elementary schools are approved for seismic upgrades, but funding hasn’t been allocated.
Cambridge said design work is underway for the Dunsmuir project, which includes planning how to manage a construction zone while classes underway. Spencer middle school went through a $5 million upgrade in 2009 with classes in session.