Massive steel beams and rebar protrude through 100-year-old brick walls at Quadra elementary school as drills and jackhammers echo across an empty gym.
Since September, Quadra’s 320 students have been temporarily relocated to Richmond elementary as part of a provincewide program to upgrade schools in the event of a major earthquake.
“Things are progressing really well at Quadra. We’re on schedule and on budget,” said Seamus Howley, Greater Victoria School District (SD 61) facilities services director. “Some of the steel work has been completed and a lot of the major footings have now been poured.”
Quadra elementary, originally built in 1914, is one of 10 schools undergoing major upgrades this year through the province’s School Seismic Mitigation Program.
Since its launch in 2004, 133 projects have been completed, with another 60 schools slated for upgrades over the next three years. The province has committed more than $2.4 billion and will need to spend at least another $600 million to complete seismic work on 104 “high-risk” schools across B.C.
“It’s dirty, messy, complicated and destructive,” said Phillip Chambers, a manager with the Ministry of Education and the point man for B.C.’s seismic mitigation program.
“People obviously wonder why it takes so long to do this – we hear it from a lot of parents. But Quadra is a great example of how complicated these projects can be.”
To withstand a major earthquake, schools require a complex network of steel and concrete to dampen or absorb tremors. While most of Quadra elementary will be gutted and reinforced, contractors Kinetic Construction plan to tear down and replace a 1962 expansion to the building, Howley said.
“That addition is actually cheaper to replace than upgrade,” he said.
SD61 is fortunate to have Richmond as a school “swing space,” Chambers said, as many B.C. school districts are struggling with where to house students during construction.
“You end up in a situation where kids are still there, in portables on the school grounds or using part of the school while upgrading goes on in another area,” he said.
Next fall, staff and students from George Jay elementary – built in 1909, the same era as Quadra and a number of other Greater Victoria schools – will take up tenancy at Richmond elementary, when seismic work begins at their school.
“We’ve submitted project definition reports for George Jay, so we’re extremely hopeful we’ll hear from the ministry soon to go forward on that,” Howley said.
Other SD61 schools slated for upgrading in the next three years include Shoreline Community middle school in View Royal, and Tillicum elementary, Cloverdale elementary and Cedar Hill middle school in Saanich.