Construction season is in full swing at Simcoe County schools, with both boards working diligently to get work done by September.
The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board is spending $5 million on construction this summer at various elementary and high schools across the county. The Simcoe County District School board is spending about $18 million.
Corry Van Nispen, the controller and manager of designing construction for the public board, says a variety of factors go into deciding annually which projects will get funding for repairs.
“We have a five-year plan that is fluid. It really is a co-ordinated effort between our design and construction team and what they see out, our maintenance staff and where they see ongoing issues... and a ministry assessment,” said Van Nispen.
In Orillia, public board projects include a washroom and stair renewal at Couchiching Heights Public School, an exterior renewal at Harriett Todd Public School, stormwater management, parking lot renewal and locker renewal at Twin Lakes Secondary School, washroom renewal at Orchard Park Public School, exterior repairs at Regent Park Public School and an air handling unit renewal and exterior renewal at Uptergrove Public School.
Notre Dame Catholic School is getting a roof replacement and Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School will be getting new heat circulating pumps through the Catholic board.
Van Nispen says COVID hasn’t negatively affected any of the construction projects in terms of costs or timelines. However, due to many school closures due to COVID, some projects were able to start earlier in June than normal.
According to a report by the Ontario’s Auditor-General in November 2019, Ontario’s school repair backlog currently has a price tag of $16.3 billion. While the funding provided to local boards for school repairs may not be nearly enough, Van Nispen says the board works as hard as possible to work with what funding they are given.
“We do our best to get the best value for the dollars with which we’re provided and maintain a safe and inviting environment for students and staff. That’s our main goal,” he said.
Van Nispen says the wide range in age of buildings in Simcoe County can sometimes be a challenge, with some buildings nearly 80 years old.
“But, we make it work,” he said.
Craig Elliot, manager of capital projects with the Catholic board, says the board also does regular checks on all the schools to determine which projects will be worked on each summer.
A consultant is retained by the board annually to assess the state of each school, paying special attention to schools approaching 15 years of age.
“We also do periodic reviews through our preventative maintenance program,” he said.
The Ministry of Education inspects schools every five years where they also do condition assessments.
As the projects are all tendered out to independent contractors, Elliot said the school board itself hasn’t had to deal with COVID restrictions on construction, however he said the reports he’s getting back from the contractors indicate that so far, all projects are running on schedule and on budget, despite the additional safety measures required.
“Luckily, a lot of our projects (like roof repairs) are happening outdoors, or they’re happening in spaces where the two-metre separation is possible,” he said. “We haven’t seen any negative effects, and we hope we won’t.”
While the Catholic board has no new builds on the books this summer, the public board has two new builds making progress: the south Barrie high school and the Georgian Bay District Secondary School in Midland.
For our story on the south Barrie high school progress, click here.
Students are already attending Georgian Bay District High School, which will be getting its sports field installed this summer in its final phase of construction.
On July 23, the Ontario government announced a $500-million investment to build 30 new schools and make permanent additions to 15 existing facilities, supporting over 25,000 student spaces across the province.
As part of that announcement, the province has given Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board approval to tender for a new elementary school in Innisfil. The province has also given the Simcoe County District School Board approval to build a replacement school for the aging Shanty Bay Public School, and build a new elementary school in south-end Bradford.