By Charlotte Helston
The Vernon school district doesn't want to hold their meetings in a portable anymore. They want an upgrade, and they've been waiting patiently for many years.
A new report by MQN Architects on the school board's administration buildings identified numerous problems, including building code violations, unmet standards for energy consumption and conservation, and functional deficiencies. In short, it recommended a substantial renovation.
The school district's manager of capital projects and maintenance services John Tompson says an upgrade has been on the district's radar for some time.
"This building is like the old Chevy car," Tompson says. "We're at the point where we can't buy parts for it anymore, we have to improvise when something fails."
But financial timing has always been an issue, and when money is available, it has consistently gone toward improvements of the schools.
"What ultimately gets done depends on the district's priorities, and for us, our schools have always taken the lead."
According to the report, the efficiency of school board staff is hindered by their workplace conditions. Insufficient meeting facilities, limited access to washrooms (there are none in the office portables), and a poor heating system are listed as hindrances to optimum working conditions.
Tompson says that while the building isn't falling apart, it has the potential to be a lot better.
"The requirements of the administration have outgrown the building," he says. "We're an $80 million organization, if you look at these buildings as our corporate headquarters, you might not be impressed."
The board office accesses funding from the Annual Facilities Grant, but those funds are restricted to minor mechanical repairs, not substantial renovations. Tompson says the vision is to build an addition onto the main office to accommodate everyone under one roof. But the Ministry does not offer funding for that type of project.
"Somehow, we have to find the money in our operating budget," Tompson says. "But now there's a $2.2 million shortfall."
The only solution comes in the form of liquidated assets. "That's the only other source of funding," Tompson says. "There's been some discussion of selling our closed schools."
The challenge there would be a long process to get an okay from the Ministry. "The school board and the Ministry would have to be confident in the long range plan of where students will be and if we'll need that (property)," Tompson says, adding that selling empty schools would not only make money, but would save it too. "Even though a building is sitting unoccupied, it costs us money in maintenance."
He says the Vernon school district is stuck in a "mode of looking for money" but nevertheless, believes this upgrade needs to happen.
"Hopefully we can stop stalling on this and move forward."
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com or call (250)309-5230.