Kudos for the NWSS Funding Announcement

The New Westminster Secondary School replacement funding announcement has been a long time in coming, and correspondingly there has been a lot of work done behind the scenes. People like me often complain about the whole process without giving praise where praise is due, so let’s stop complaining and start praising!

First and foremost, the biggest kudos belong to Jonina Campbell, chair of the school board. She has worked long and hard to keep the pressure up in getting NWSS replaced. She is a tireless advocate for education in New Westminster and deserves all of the praise anybody could ever give her. I’ve been at DPAC meetings where she’s given updates, and I could tell she was getting a little frustrated with how long things were taking, but she was professional and collected throughout the entire process. Thank you Jonina!

Praise also to the two new members of the school board trustees: Kelly Slade-Kerr and Mark Gifford. They’ve also worked hard, not only to get everything lined up from the school board’s point-of-view, but by bringing a unified, harmonious, and level-headed voice forward on behalf of everybody involved in New Westminster. Previous school boards were fairly dysfunctional, and Slade-Kerr and Gifford both brought much-needed stability and unity to the table.

Kudos to Danielle Connelly and Mona Boucher for raising the pressure on behalf of parents. The rally brought the issue to the forefront in provincial media, and that pressure helped get the funding through.

Thanks also to Judy Darcy for organizing petitions and meeting with Mike Bernier daily to make sure that replacing NWSS was truly at the top of the Ministry of Education’s list.

There are probably countless staff members at School District 40 who have worked on the plans through this entire process, making sure that all of the boxes were checked, and they deserve our thanks as well.

We’ve been waiting a long time to thank someone for getting NWSS rebuilt, so let’s thank everybody I mentioned here!

What will it take?

New Westminster has been waiting for a new high school for a very long time. We’ve been told time and time again that a new school is coming, that NWSS is at the top of the Ministry of Education’s priorities, and we just need to be patient.

But should we be patient? Should we trust people who tell us to wait and that the new school is coming?

In 2005 the provincial government announced $52 million in funding for a new school. Demolition actually started, but was halted nearly immediately when workers disturbed asbestos. The school district was fined $75,000 by WorkSafe BC for this. The $52 million disappeared in a similar cloud of dust. (Update: Kelly Slade-Kerr comments below that the asbestos case was actually from a room renovation, not premature school demolition, and that there were other reasons behind the funding disappearing.)

In 2007 board chair Michael Ewen said that there were positive talks with the provincial government and hoped that there would be good news on funding. There was to be no funding.

In June 2015 the school district received a letter from the Ministry of Education saying the ministry “hoped to be in a position to request funding from the provincial treasury within six to eight weeks” and that a funding decision would be announced by November. There was no funding announcement.

On April 4 2016 Mike Bernier, the Minister of Education, said that NWSS was his ministry’s top priority and that a decision would be made in the “coming weeks”. Since then the “number 1 priority right now in the Ministry of Education’s office right now” has been leapfrogged by $149 million in other capital projects and upgrades announced by the Ministry of Education.

New Westminster’s School District 40 and the BC Ministry of Education have problems with deadlines and “trust us” statements. A new high school has been on-again off-again for over a decade. A middle school that was promised to be finished by 2009 not only missed that target, but missed its 2015 opening date as well. Qayqayt Elementary only opened “on time” because of the teachers’ strike that took out the first three weeks of the 2014-2015 school year, allowing them to finish construction. And even then, exterior construction wasn’t finished, and the school was officially opened six months late.

So when Mike Bernier says that an announcement is coming in the “coming weeks”, I don’t trust him. When Mike Bernier says that he hopes to be able to give some certainty before the end of the school year, I don’t believe him. We’ve heard school district chairs say good news is coming for years now.

So what will it take? What will it take for me to believe that New Westminster is getting a new high school?

It won’t be the announcement of funding, because we’ve heard that before.

It won’t be the beginning of demolition, because we’ve seen that before.

At this point the only thing that will make me believe we’re actually getting a new high school in New Westminster is when the first student enters the doors to learn at that new high school.

It’s not that we can’t trust the provincial government. It’s not that we can’t trust the Minister of Education. It’s not that we can’t trust the school district and school trustees.

It’s that they’ve all forced us to not believe in them. Why should now be any different from 2005? Or 2007? Or 2009? You say “trust us” and “be patient”, but why?

Education Minister tours NWSS

BC Education Minister Mike Bernier recently toured New Westminster Secondary School at the invitation of New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy. NWSS is scheduled to be replaced, and Darcy invited Bernier to show him the deplorable conditions in the school.

“NWSS is in bad shape,” Darcy said. “It’s really put New Westminster on the map, and we want to make sure that the new school reaches new heights in shoddiness to keep New Westminster in focus.”

NWSS principal Phil Cookson pointed out different areas of concern. “As you can see, we have droppings here,” he told Bernier near a crawl space under the Massey wing. “If we can get the Ministry to build the new school in such a way that we attract more rats to our school, we can turn NWSS into the ideal location to study hantavirus and other airborne diseases. Researchers from around the world will flock to NWSS, which will help inspire our children in the future.”

Cookson also highlighted the secondary benefits of the run-down school.

“Any time we have a leak in a pipe, we have to have a hazmat crew come in,” he said. “This helps keep high-paying jobs in the community, teaches our children about safety and disaster planning, and gives our children ideas about jobs in the future. We are also investigating internships with New Westminster Fire & Rescue Services and local water damage restoration and remediation companies.”

School board chair Jonina Campbell was cautiously optimistic.

“Getting the new high school has been a focus of the school board for a number of years. By upgrading NWSS’s dangerous and unteachable state, we hope to keep this issue in the community for years to come so we have something to talk about during the next election.”