Parents lift the roof on Bayside school leaks

Public outcry for school roof replacement gains traction after 20 years of repairs failed to stem the flow.

Bayside Middle School PAC President Sandra Arthur and MLA Gary Holman present a 500-name petition to the Ministry of Education on Tuesday

It took the injury of a student and a little digging by a parent to spark an uproar over a school roof that has been leaking for around two decades.

School District 63 (Saanich) and the Ministry of Education met late last week to see if they can find an estimated $2.6 million to replace the roof at Bayside Middle School in Brentwood Bay. Parents, the district superintendent and local MLA believe this might be the moment where a persistent problem is finally fixed.

“You think, who has dropped the ball here,” says Sandra Arthur, the current President of the Bayside Parents Advisory Committee (PAC).

A long time parent of students at the school, Arthur said she didn’t become aware of the extent of the leaks until her son told her about a classmate who slipped in a puddle caused by a leak and was seriously injured. When she looked into the issue further, Arthur said she learned the roof has been leaking since Bayside was built in 1992.

She said she was also stunned that despite years of asking for money to replace the roof, the school district had been repeatedly denied by the province.

Dr. Keven Elder, superintendent, said he met with B.C. education ministry staff Wednesday, Feb. 24. The goal was to see if money could be found in various government ministry budgets to come up with an estimated $2.6 million to replace the school roof.

The school district recently sold the former McTavish school in North Saanich for $975,000. Elder said the ministry controls two-thirds of the money in its capital fund for projects specifically within the Saanich school district.

“I feel now that the money from McTavish will be directed to the Bayside roof,” Elder said.

The proceeds from the sale, as well as other capital funds gives the local district around $1 million to put towards the roof — the rest, Elder said, would have to come from the ministry.

Elder, who was vice-principal at Bayside when it opened in 1992, said he’s been aware of the leaks from day one. The first 10 years after the school was built, he explained, the contractor was on the hook for repairs to the roof. However, the district took on the responsibility after that time and has only had enough money for a series of repairs each time the roof leaked.

Elder said the district had applied for a grant in 2005 and again in 2007, for capital dollars to replace the roof, after engineering reports told them it was needed.

“Funding never did flow,” he said.

One of the reasons, he said, was the ministry’s focus of their capital budgets on seismic upgrades to make schools more able to withstand earthquakes. Elder said as a result, their roof replacement requests did not qualify for the lion’s share of capital infrastructure dollars.

That left a situation where, he continued, every time it rained, students and staff had to place buckets and towels throughout the school to collect water. He said that’s unacceptable and the ongoing problem led to a student suffering a concussion last November after they slipped in a puddle.

“We are sorry that happened,” he said. “This is a real risk, on a daily basis, that someone else could slip.”

Arthur said the district has spent around $400,000 in the last 10 years to fix leaks as they occur. Yet today, there are problems in the gym, library, locker area and drama room.

The PAC organized a petition, which quickly drew 500 names and was presented Tuesday by Arthur, parents and MLA Gary Holman in the B.C. legislature. Arthur said the Minister, Mike Bernier, said plenty of positive things, but the proof of support will only come in funding for a new roof.

Holman, NDP MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, said it’s the public action by parents that has seen the issue take these steps forward and hopes the pressure continues.

“The minister has made encouraging remarks,” Holman said, “but he has yet to publicly commit to replacing this roof. Everyone now seems to think it’s the right thing to do.”

“Our fingers are crossed,”she said. “We need the commitment that (the ministry) can find the funds in their budget for this roof.”