Guest commentary by Eric Mazzi, QEA Parent
First I want to summarize why this is a crisis. Three U-Hill students testified last week to Trustees about the atrocious learning conditions (e.g. sitting on dirty floors, denied opportunities for science classes, etc.). Particularly poignant to me were the young women students at U-Hill who testified in March that they sometimes must eat lunch in the washrooms. Yet, arguably, these are the lucky students. 100’s of other Kindergarten-to-12 students are “shipped out” in busses and cars to schools 10km or more away because they have no neighborhood school, and thus no choice to walk or bicycle. These students not only miss out on before-/after-school educational opportunities, research clearly demonstrates they are at risk for an unhealthy lifestyle and premature mortality through increased risk of obesity (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc.). Research even shows students who walk to school have stronger social networks with more friends and acquaintances, therefore those denied neighborhood schools are literally denied friendships. These hardships and risk factors have been involuntarily imposed on UBC students for 8 years, and will continue until new schools are built.
Since the formal adoption of UBC’s CCP in 2000, the need for schools has been urgent but the province has repeatedly denied funding. The past cannot be undone, but it seems clear the way forward is to get the new UBC schools built ASAP. However, VSB’s current public proposal is to conduct design and planning for the new secondary (at old NRC) for 1 year, with occupancy January 1, 2011. Design and planning for the new elementary school is not planned to begin until January, 2010, with occupancy beginning September, 2012. Quite frankly, I worry that because VSB facility planning resources are (to quote Chris Kelly) “flat out,” that VSB may have difficulty even delivering on their proposed schedule.
So my simple recommendation made to VSB is that UBC Properties Trust be hired to manage the design and construction of the new secondary school. With their proven track record of moving construction forward, I believe the new secondary school could be occupied September 1, 2009. If an arrangement can be made to at least authorize funds for design & planning in the next couple weeks, the first public consultation for the new school design could and should occur in mid-September. Of course UBCPT should be paid management fees, but it seems very likely they could deliver net cost savings through economies of scale and sheer volume of experience managing construction at UBC. I would go so far as to recommend UBCPT manage design and construction of the new elementary school as well, but I anticipate some reluctance because that site is not on university land.