It came as an early Christmas gift to the region but it’s also just one step in repairing a provincial education system that has appeared a little tattered as of late.
Education Minister George Abbott announced earlier this week what many people have been waiting to hear for years: Belmont secondary will be replaced in a new location and a new high school will be built in Royal Bay. Abbott also confirmed that the province will help fund the replacement of Oak Bay High to the tune of $50 million.
Combine that project with the budget for the West Shore schools, estimated to cost $100 million, and many local tradespeople can count on being employed for years.
Replacing Belmont is long overdue. Maintenance staff in the Sooke School District have done yeoman service to keep the patchwork of buildings in safe and working order. Duct tape fixes, a long-running joke at the school, are but a minor problem. The city block-long structure needs a seismic overhaul.
To the relief of school staff and district trustees, the Education Ministry wisely opted to build two schools, as opposed to a single building, which was hinted at earlier this year.
A long and often frustrating lobbying campaign by trustees, superintendents, students and local politicians played no small role in swaying the highest levels of government to release capital funding. As acknowledged by Abbott, in this case the squeaky wheel does indeed get the grease.
His announcement also shows the B.C. Liberals will hand out money for good projects, regardless of the political stripes of area MLAs.
And that might be the bigger message. Our province once had a reputation across Canada for the quality of our education system. Sadly, after decades of political partisanship creeping into the system, B.C. no longer enjoys that reputation.
It’s time to push back against any agenda that doesn’t have students as the top priority in our education system. Schools should not be built simply to impress voters and extend a government’s mandate. These institutions are vital for the future of our province and decisions affecting them are truly larger than politics.