Funding insufficient to save BC’s ‘deteriorating’ schools, province warned repeatedly

An annual assessment found that current levels of funding are insufficient to keep up with mounting school repair bills in newly unredacted documents released to The Current

By Tyler Olsen | March 30, 2022 |5:00 am

BC’s schools will only continue to deteriorate over the coming years unless the province starts spending more money on routine maintenance.

That warning—accompanied by a reminder that the same warning had been delivered repeatedly to the government in previous years—was redacted from documents when they were released last year to The Current. (See our story from the time here. You can find the data compiled for that story at the bottom of this story.) It has now been revealed, along with an array of tables backing up the assertion, following the Current’s appeal to the province’s Information Commissioner.

The newly exposed information makes explicit what The Current reported last September: that schools in the Fraser Valley and across BC need billions in cash to stop the school infrastructure deficit from widening even further.

You can view the documents here.

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At the present rate, the repair bill for BC’s schools will be nearly half the replacement cost. More than $7 billion in repairs are expected to be needed over the next five years, and that total is increasing each year.

Those figures were released to The Current last year in a document that had much of the information in its 14 pages blanked out, with the government saying it could be kept secret because it either risked harming the finances of the province, was policy advice for politicians, or contained confidential cabinet information.

The vast majority of the previously missing information has now been released to The Current following its appeal. And it illustrates the depth of BC’s school infrastructure deficit, and the beleaguered tone struck by those tasked with assessing the state of 1,800 school buildings across the province.

The new information shows, among other things, that of those 1,800 schools, more than half are at least 50 years old.

Insufficient spending

The “Routine Capital Performance Framework” is, as its name suggests, routine and completed each year. It uses a “facility conditions index” (FCI) to assess the state of school infrastructure. The FCI is essentially a ratio comparing the repair cost of a building to its replacement cost. In just a decade, the FCI for BC’s schools has significantly worsened, going from 0.38 in 2013 to 0.47 in 2020. That meant the bill to repair BC’s schools in 2020 was 47% the cost of just tearing them all down and starting over. The International Facility Management Association considers an FCI greater than 0.3 to reflect a building in “critical” condition.

To see how FCI ratings work on a school-by-school level, see those for the Abbotsford School District here.

In an emailed statement, the province pointed to $1.13 billion in maintenance funding over four years, including $240 million in the coming year for school maintenance projects. Current spending is 20% higher than when the NDP took office, the province said. The province also pointed to money for new and expanded schools, and said most facilities can last more than 50 years.

But the assessment shows that the province has been told that it needs to spend many times that figure to stop the school decay: Over the next five years, it expects $7 billion to be needed. That figure works out to around $1.4 billion annually, more than the province has spent since 2017.

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The document’s authors make the insufficiency of provincial investments clear in blunt assessments previously redacted when the information was first released.

“The average provincial FCI for school districts have been worsening steadily over time as routine capital funding has not kept pace with necessary requirements of immediate deferred maintenance items or cost escalation of materials, systems, and skilled trades,” they write.

Dire prognosis

The prognosis for the future strikes a note of exasperation, noting that the information is hardly new to government planners: “With current routine capital funding levels, the costs associated with deferred maintenance will continue to rise and the average provincial FCI will continue to worsen. This has been identified in previous Routine Capital Performance Framework reports over the years.”

The authors repeat that sentiment multiple times.

The stock questions in the documents ask for comment on whether school replacements in the coming years would have an impact on the FCI. The section gives the authors a chance to strike a note of optimism. The writers, though, were unable to see things improving. Given the small percentage of coming replacements, they declare the impact to be negligible “particularly as the significantly larger percentage of remaining facilities continues to age and deteriorate.”

The final section of the document deals with the pressures the ministry faces on future capital requirements. The assessment’s authors offer a piece of still-redacted advice, and immediately follow it with a warning if the province fails to take heed: “Otherwise FCIs will continue to worsen and total deferred maintenance provincially will continue to grow each year, as it has for the past many years.”

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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