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Trustees push for McBride approval

New Westminster school trustees want Richard McBride Elementary School replaced, and they want it replaced now.
At risk: Richard McBride Elementary School is a striking building on Richmond Street, looking out over Sapperton and the Fraser River. It’s also at high risk of widespread damage or structural failure in the event of an earthquake – and it’s still awaiting seismic upgrades. The Treasury Board is currently studying the McBride project; it’s not yet known whether the school will be retrofitted or replaced.

New Westminster school trustees want Richard McBride Elementary School replaced, and they want it replaced now.

Trustees sent a letter this week urging the Ministry of Education to approve funding for the Richard McBride Elementary School replacement project.

“With each passing day, we worsen odds of seismic safety for more than 400 children, staff and their families,” trustees warned in the letter.

The 87-year-old elementary school has been the district’s number 1 priority since it secured funding for a brand new high school in June 2016.

Richard McBride Elementary School was built in 1929 after a fire destroyed the original school. The aging school has an H1 seismic rating and has the highest risk of widespread damage or structural failure. It wouldn’t be reparable after an earthquake. (The existing New Westminster Secondary School is also classified as H1.)

Trustees hope by reaching out directly to the minister of education, they’ll keep the McBride project top of mind as the provincial budget announcement looms, according to board of education chair Mark Gifford.

“Its good timing. We’re trying to keep pressure on the province to recognize the urgency around addressing seismic concerns in our schools, and McBride is that standout one,” he told the Record.

According to the district’s five-year capital plan, a complete replacement of Richard McBride Elementary would cost about $20 million while a seismic retrofit would cost about $18 million.

Considering the cost of a retrofit is nearly the same amount as a complete replacement, the district went ahead last year and submitted a project definition report indicating replacement was the preferred option for the school.

In November, the ministry of education contacted the school district to have staff update the project definition report to take into consideration new enrolment numbers. On Jan. 10, the district submitted the updated project report, according to the ministry of education.

“The ministry is currently reviewing the latest draft of the district’s plans, and we hope to move this project forward as quickly as possible,” read a statement from the ministry of education to the Record.

Gifford, too, would like to see the project move forward as quickly as possible.

“We’re always hopeful, but we haven’t got that phone call yet,” he said.