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?