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Safeguarding kids from a big shake

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by Warren Frey

Vancouver’s schools are going through a little shake-up in order to get ready for the big one.
Rite-Way Metals Ltd. staff install flashing on the new Panorama Ridge secondary under construction on 64 Avenue in Surrey. Like all new schools in B.C., Panorama Ridge is being constructed to seismic standards, while existing schools are being upgraded.
Rite-Way Metals Ltd. staff install flashing on the new Panorama Ridge secondary under construction on 64 Avenue in Surrey. Like all new schools in B.C., Panorama Ridge is being constructed to seismic standards, while existing schools are being upgraded.

Seismic Standards

B.C. invests $1.5 billion to upgrade 800 existing schools

Staff Writer

Vancouver’s schools are going through a little shake-up in order to get ready for the big one.

Seismic upgrading of Vancouver’s many elementary schools isn’t scheduled to begin until next summer, but the Vancouver School Board is prepared to tackle the sizable undertaking one building at a time.

The provincial government has pledged to spend $1.5 billion to upgrade B.C.’s schools and protect them from earthquakes. More than 800 schools across the province have been selected for seismic upgrading, 101 of which are situated in Vancouver.

But what steps are taken depends on the form of the school, and each school demands a unique solution, said Les King, Vancouver School Board’s director of facilities.

While each school’s upgrade will be tailor made, there are some common features of schools in the Lower Mainland that help making the structures ready for earthquakes a little easier, he explained.

“There are three different types of buildings that we deal with. Bricks and mortar buildings are heavy structures, and basically we just strengthen those building, and use anchors to tie the structure to the soil.”

The second group of buildings could be loosely classified as structures built after the Second World War and up until the early 1990s. These buildings tend to be made out of concrete, but the techniques are quite similar to brick and mortar structures, he said.

The third group of schools are made primarily of wood and are consequently much more flexible.

“The biggest problem with that group are the roofs,” King said.

But there’s another potential roadblock when upgrading, and that’s when the building is classified as a heritage structure.

“If it’s a heritage building, we have to find a way to retain that aspect of the structure while still upgrading it,” he said.

In some cases, the cost of upgrading an older building is so high that it isn’t worth doing, and a new school is built in its place.

“We upgrade the school by completely replacing it. Dickens elementary, for instance, had a poor layout, and the cost of upgrading was actually more than it would cost to build a new school,” King said.

The building code, while well suited to new buildings, does not adequately address renovations, and seismic upgrading could be considered a major renovation, he added.

When building a new elementary school, which is usually a low-rise building, a combination of concrete and wood is usually a solution. Larger schools with more than one storey, such as many secondary schools, rely on concrete and steel, King said. But every new school relies on the current seismic code, which ensures earthquake preparedness for the structure from the start.

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