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Fight Victoria, urge parents at school board debate

Parents expressed anger and frustration at the chronic delays in seismic school upgrades at a school board candidates debate last night in Vancouver, urging the panel to fight Victoria on what many see as a forced choice between school space, and school safety.

On the panel were Cope candidates Allan Wong and Jane Bouey, NPA candidates Ken Denike and Carol Gibson, Vision candidate Mike Lombardo and independent Keith Haskell

The debate was hosted by Think City Society, which last spring held a public forum on school seismic upgrading.

At the heart of the seismic schools controversy in Vancouver are provincial guidelines that call for old schools to be replaced if the cost of renovation exceeds 70 per cent of new construction – but in most cases this means sacrificing space for childcare, extracurriculars and after-school programming.

Such was the case with General Gordon elementary school. After the parents advisory council raised a stink that reached Premier Gordon Campbell's office, Campbell announced it would be one of three schools in the city to serve as a neighborhood hub delivering community services year round – part of a Neighborhoods of Learning pilot project that would serve as a template for other schools.

Still, there have been no board meetings on the project and no public consultation.

Gibson said there has been nothing to meet about yet.

"We are not in a position at this point to say we have 'n' number of dollars that we can spend…when we have more information we will definitely move forward and move forward quickly."

"Nothing to meet about?" countered Wong. "I'm flabbergasted. Why are we waiting for the provincial government to give us the parameters?"

"Three years ago we knew the provincial government was moving in the direction of neighborhood schools and this board spent its time looking at school closures," said Bouey.

Gibson pointed out the school board co-governs with the provincial government.

"While you would like to believe you can go out and be a maverick and do you want, you can't," she said.

Lombardo said "waiting around" is typical of the school board's approach to seismic upgrading, and more advocacy and leadership is needed. He said if elected Vision would create a seismic advisory council to guide the consultation and planning process.

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