BC’s increasing school repair bill

Across BC, school districts are facing mounting repair bills. The Current has obtained condition data for every school district in the province. In many, the cost to repair the schools is close to half the cost of tearing them down and building new facilities.

By Tyler Olsen | September 1, 2021 |8:42 pm

Imagine a house that would cost $100,000 to fix or $200,000 to tear down and replace entirely. That’s the situation British Columbia taxpayers find themselves in—except with billions of dollars of deteriorating schools.

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Figures released to The Current show the province has been unable to keep up with maintenance and repairs in BC’s schools, leaving them in increasingly worse shape. Now, the cost to fix all those facilities—including those in the Fraser Valley—is now nearly half the value of the buildings themselves.

The figures, which were obtained through a freedom of information request, show that schools in the Fraser Valley and across the province are in worse shape today than five years ago, with more than $7 billion in repairs expected to be needed over the coming five years.

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Local school boards and the provincial government carefully track the repairs needed for the thousands of schools around the province. Each school has its own “facility conditions index” (FCI) figure. Basically, that’s a comparison between the cost of necessary repairs and the cost of building a new school instead. (If a school needs $5 million in repairs, and would cost $10 million to replace, its FCI would be 0.5. At an FCI of 1.0, a building is essentially worthless: it costs the same amount to tear it down and replace it as it would to fix it.)

FCI scores are used across the world to evaluate infrastructure. The International Facility Management Association considers any ratio over 0.3 to be in “critical” condition. Ontario’s Ministry of Education declared in 2016 that a legacy of underinvestment had left its schools with an average FCI of 0.28.

Schools in the Fraser Valley and across BC are in much worse shape. The provincial average FCI is 0.47, according to the figures released to The Current. The Langley and Chilliwack school districts have identical FCI scores of 0.47. Fraser Cascade’s FCI is 0.48, while Abbotsford and Mission’s are each 0.51.

That means the cost to repair the districts’ infrastructure is nearly half the cost to replace it. Several small rural schools in Abbotsford have FCI scores at or above 0.70, while the largest schools have ratings near the provincial and district averages. (The Current was unable to obtain school-specific ratings for Chilliwack or Langley.) Even Mission Secondary, a school with a comparatively good score (0.33), still has a repair bill exceeding $10 million.

In a decade, Abbotsford’s FCI has worsened dramatically from 0.29 to 0.51. Chilliwack’s schools also need substantially more repairs than five years ago. (Fraser Cascade, Mission, and Langley all have FCI scores that have bounced around a bit.) The figures mean that the total repair bill for all the region’s schools runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Although school districts largely decide on where to spend money, those funds mostly come from the provincial government. The province gives each school district a facilities grant based on enrolment and the age of schools. But those grants have been insufficient to pay for the number of repairs needed by schools across the province, the FCI figures show.

In a statement, a provincial spokesperson pointed to a promise of $3.5 billion in capital spending over the next three years. That money would be split between new schools and additions and for repairs.

“We know there is more work to do, and we will continue working closely with all 60 school districts to ensure schools are maintained and improved where needed,” the statement says.

The statement noted that maintenance spending amounted to $240 million last year, and that the figure was 20% higher than four years prior. But the internal government documents show that $240 million is barely half what is immediately needed to keep BC’s schools from deteriorating further. And over the next five years, the province expects that $7 billion worth of repairs and upgrades will be needed. That works out to $1.4 billion per year.

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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