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School construction season digging in across the board

Public board spending about $18M, Catholic board spending about $5M on repairs to schools county-wide this summer

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, while the Simcoe County District School Board is spending approximately $18 million.

Corry Van Nispen, who is 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 that year.

“We have a five-year plan that is fluid," he told BarrieToday. "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."

In Barrie, public board projects this summer include:

* Phase 4 of a building envelope renewal for Algonquin Ridge Elementary School;

* An exterior wall repair for Assikinack Public School;

* Washroom, interior, asphalt and paving renewal at Innisdale Secondary School;

* Drainage and interior renewal at Steele Street Public School;

* Roof-top air-handling units at Andrew Hunter Elementary School;

* A cooling-tower replacement and piping at Bear Creek Secondary School;

* Mechanical, electrical and fire protection added at Eastview Secondary School; 

* A terrazzo stair replacement and roof replacement at Emma King Elementary School;

* Window and door replacements at Ferndale Woods Elementary School;

* Mechanical upgrades at Johnson Street Public School;

* Roof and masonry repair at Oakley Park Public School;

* And washroom renewal at Warnica Public School.

Over at the Catholic board, St. Mary's school and St. Joseph's high school will be getting roof replacements, while Sister Catherine Donnelly school will be getting exterior door and hollow metal frame replacements.

Van Nispen says COVID hasn’t negatively affected any of the public board's construction projects in terms of costs or timelines. However, due to many school closures because of COVID, some projects were started 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 public 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 of 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 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 building projects on the books this summer, the public board has two underway, including the south-end Barrie high school on Mapleview Drive East and the Georgian Bay District Secondary School in Midland.

For our story on the south-end 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 replace the aging Shanty Bay Public School, as well as build a new elementary school in south-end Bradford.