Alpha seismic studies in the works

North Burnaby's Alpha secondary received preliminary approval from the education ministry last spring for seismic upgrading.

Staff at Burnaby school district are now in the final weeks of feasibility studies and figuring out how much all the options will cost, from a complete replacement to replacement of some sections or just upgrades to what's there now, said district secretary-treasurer Greg Frank.

Last May, Alpha was announced as one of 14 high-priority schools in B.C. to share $122 million in provincial funding for seismic upgrades.

The district actually wants to see a new school in place of the aging, 65-year-old facility.

"We would like to see that school totally replaced and we're still trying to determine if we can justify that based on the costs that are involved with the seismic upgrading," Frank said.

"The first approach in all likelihood would be a partial replacement and renewal from a seismic point of view of the existing structure."

That analysis will include looking at the cost of displacing students into temporary portables during construction, doing seismic upgrades and bringing the old building up to current codes, and whether it would be just as cost effective instead to build a new permanent space on adjacent land. The district would also look at how to maintain the option of expansion in the future.

As for why the district wants to expand Alpha when it's currently underutilized, Frank said that's due to a longterm strategy in which Alpha would eventually take some of the pressure off Burnaby North, Frank said.

North is currently the largest high school in the province with 2,300 students, while Alpha houses 750 students in a building with a capacity for 1,000.

"So the strategy would be looking at some way of balancing enrollments between the two schools," he said. "If we had our druthers we would rather see two schools in the 1,500-student range."

A larger student body would then allow Alpha to provide more program options. Some similar programs could be offered at both with other programs being added to differentiate between the two schools and provide more choice for students.

Such a plan would likely take at least 10 years to become reality, Frank said.

But first, they have to figure out how much all the seismic options will cost.

"If you have a wing, a classroom space for example, the reality is it may not be significantly more in some cases to build new space than it is to try and go in and totally retrofit old space," he said. "And the problem is you spend significant dollars retrofitting to make the old space seismically more sound but it's still very much an old building in terms of all the rest of the infrastructure in the building—heating, ventilation, hallways, educational space etc. Our preference would be to renew it totally and replace it."

Meanwhile, in December the district submitted its five-year capital plan to the ministry seeking preliminary approval for the next two schools on its priority list—seismic upgrades to Montecito elementary, estimated at $1.75 million, and Stride elementary, estimated at $3.1 million.

The district anticipates the ministry making a capital funding announcement sometime in the next couple months.

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