West Coast students, parents and teachers celebrated a massive funding announcement from the provincial government at Ucluelet Secondary School on Thursday.
Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser joined B.C.’s Minister of Education Rob Fleming to announce that the province has committed $45 million for a partial replacement of Ucluelet Secondary School and seismic upgrades at Ucluelet Elementary.
“This is a long overdue project,” Fleming told a large audience inside the school’s band room.
“It takes partnerships and it takes hard work to come together in this way. This is a community with tremendous potential and is the envy of the rest of the province. Everybody knows that the West Coast is the most beautiful part of British Columbia. I was reminded of that this morning coming up here.”
He noted this is the first major school project in Ucluelet or Tofino since 1981 and that Ucluelet’s schools have been slated for seismic upgrades for over 10 years.
“Ucluelet and Tofino families have been left waiting and we think you deserve a lot better,” he said. “It’s just no good, and I can say this as a parent in Victoria, to have to worry about your kids going to school each and every day in a building that might be vulnerable to damage if and when the big earthquake hits.”
He said both schools are expected to be complete by September, 2022.
Fleming told the Westerly News he was happy to have the opportunity to make the announcement in person in front of the community members who have passionately advocated for the upgrades and the students the upgrades will benefit.
“It’s not only a pleasure to meet the community, but it’s a chance to look people in the eye and say ‘You deserve this,’” he said. “Too often we talk about the school system and we never talk about kids. At the end of the day, schools are there so kids can flourish and contribute every ounce of potential they have as adults…This is a safety announcement first and foremost but, while we make this investment, we can also make this a really cool learning space. The secret to success in any economy, B.C. is no exception, is to have really engaged students.”
The partial replacement of USS will include new classrooms, a new music room, library and administrative block as well as a new Neighbourhood Learning Centre for childcare and other programming designed for the community’s young families.
“There will be community space for childcare or other purposes right here in the building that will give the community seven-day a week access to have all kinds of great community programs available,” Fleming said adding the community will have a key role in designing the rebuild.
“It will allow the school an opportunity to reflect local values as you design this project for yourselves and your community needs.”
Alberni Board of Education Chair Pam Craig said the announcement was “marvellous.”
“This is a tremendous day for all of us,” she said. “We have been working on this for well over 10 years. Our school board has tried very very hard to make an impression on the government and make sure that they understand how we want this facility here to be safe for our children.”
School District 70 Superintendent Greg Smyth said the funding would be “transformative” for Ucluelet’s schools in terms of safety, functionality, appearance and longevity.
“We really looking forward to working with our school communities, with our community partners, [and] with our architects, in designing schools that are safe, modern, functional places to learn,” he said. “We know it’s not going to be done overnight and there’s going to be a lot of work that goes into it, but thank you once again for investing in our community and in our kids. It means a ton for us.”
Fraser told the Westerly News the upgrades “have been a long time coming.”
“I first met with the School Board twelve years ago and they were lobbying hard, advocating for improvements and reminding me that safety is paramount for kids, we’re on the edge of the subduction zone, this is ground zero for a potential big earthquake and there would be no smarter and wiser investment than to make sure these schools are safe,” he said.
He noted seismic upgrades at B.C. Schools have accelerated since the NDP Government was elected in 2017 and he was delighted to see Ucluelet’s turn arrive.
“It’s not just safety, these are upgrades that are going to bring this school into 21st century learning,” he said. “And, the community gets to have a big hand in the design of that rebuild.”
Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel attended the announcement event and told the Westerly he was shocked by the amount of funding announced.
“It actually made me tear up a little bit. I thought it was going to be an announcement of maybe $8 million. There’s no way I thought they were going to address both schools at the same time. And, what I’m very delighted about is that they’re open to having other amenities in the school, like early childhood education,” he said. “It’s great for all the kids in our community.”
Ucluelet Secondary School also serves Tofino students and Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said the upgrades could lead to more engagement and school pride.
“Seeing what took place in Port Alberni when they built a brand new high school, I can understand that having a new school to learn in and for teachers and staff to work in, is a tremendous thing for a community,” she said. “It’s exciting. It’s new. It’s fresh and, let’s admit it, it’s a little bit nicer to come to school everyday.”
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