Petition update

SD 61’s multi-million-dollar mismanagement of Burnside upgrade negatively impacts Vic High

Stephen Dorsey, Co-Founder - Friends of Vic High
Canada

Dec 14, 2020 — 

BREAKING NEWS:

School District 61’s multi-million-dollar mismanagement of Burnside School upgrade budget revealed as source of funding shortfall for Vic High upgrades

SD61 thwarts build of original vision for Vic High’s Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project in a scramble to cover Burnside deficit

Victoria, BC, December 14th, 2020 – The Greater Victoria School District 61’s (SD61) long-awaited report made public Dec. 7, 2020, cites the appropriation of $2M from Vic High’s seismic upgrade budget. This was used to offset S.J. Burnside Educational Centre’s multi-million-dollar cost overruns.*

*https://pub-sd61.escribemeetings.com/FileStream.ashx?DocumentId=420 Page 76 on.

The document details how $2M was appropriated from Vic High’s budget and shifted to Burnside to make up for that project's cost overrun. SD61 then claimed the Vic High shortfall as the reason they undertook the proposed lease of over 2 acres of Vic High land to offset the $2M shortfall. 

The report throws into question SD61’s claim that the lease of over 2 acres of Vic High land to the Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) was necessary to pay for a shortfall arising from Vic High’s seismic upgrade and heritage preservation. This project includes the long-promised Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project (MSRP).

“SD61 has publicly maintained that the reason for having to scale back the MSRP was due to the shortfall in the original Vic High budget. The reality is that the shortfall appears to be of their own making,” commented Stephen Dorsey, co-founder of the Friends of Vic High (FOVH).

The new information in part details how SD61 had already negotiated the land for money deal for the housing project before they held the 2018 public consultation on the future of Vic High. Subsequently, the CRHC chaired by Mayor Lisa Helps, asked for more Vic High land (which they received essentially for free) for an 8-metre easement to accommodate the housing project.

At the June and Nov. 2019 public consultations, SD61 did not disclose the additional 8-metre easement, and images shared with the public did not show this change in Vic High land use.

This additional land grab made it impossible to move forward with the envisioned build of the standard, 8-lane metric track and multi-sport turf field on the remaining Vic High land. Not until the fall of 2020 — a year after trustees voted on the 2-acre land transfer and 8-metre easement — was the public made aware of the negative impact on Vic High’s stadium upgrade plans.

“These are the kinds of purposeful moves that erode trust in our public institutions and officials”, noted Esther Callo, co-founder of FOVH. “It is wholly unacceptable that three levels of government would work together to undermine efforts to build long-promised athletic facilities for Vic High students.” 

The FOVH is asking SD61 to rescind their decision to grant the CRHC an 8-metre easement for the proposed development. Returning this strip of land to its purpose as part of the original MSRP plans is critical. This needs to happen so that the project can move forward. 

“The FOVH has been singularly focussed on ensuring that the promise made to Vic High students for the envisioned MSRP is kept. We will leave it those responsible for oversight of SD61 to hold the parties accountable for the self-inflicted financial mess and potential breaches in public trust,” added Dorsey.   

About the Friends of Vic High:

The Friends of Vic High (FOVH) is a group of community advocates and Vic High alumni who are seeking the originally envisioned Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project for Vic High built and delivered as promised. The FOVH's sole interest is advocating for the rights of current and future students of Vic High as it relates to this project and to ensure equitable treatment and opportunity.

Backgrounder and Timeline noted below.

Website:  https://www.vichighsaee.ca/ ,  

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/friends-of-vic-high 

Petition: https://www.change.org/savevichightrack 

 

-###-

Media Contact / Spokesperson:

Stephen Dorsey, Vic High 1984 Alumni

Member, Friends of Vic high

T. 647-938-5449

E. Stephen@thefractionalcmo.ca

https://www.vichighsaee.ca/

 

BACKGROUNDER:

School District 61’s Mismanagement of Burnside School Upgrade Revealed as Real Reason for Vic High Upgrade Shortfall

The Burnside Budget Mess: Millions in Cost Overruns

In just a few short months, SJ Burnside Educational Centre’s upgrade ballooned from $2.6M to $8.1M, according to an SD61 report made public on Dec 7. 

In 2016, Burnside School was in disrepair after approximately 10 years as a rental.[1] The recent report reveals that Burnside’s upgrade was subject to cost overruns because “[t]here was no capital project bylaw funding, no funding agreement, no Certificate of Approval nor external project oversight of the project by the Ministry of Education. Between July 2016 and June 2019, the project was funded internally and ran over budget requiring additional funding and funding sources.” [2]

Starting in 2016, Burnside School underwent an upgrade in preparation for students from SJ Willis. In 2019, SJ Willis students were moved to Burnside permanently so that SJ Willis could be upgraded and turned into a “swing” space for high schools undergoing seismic upgrades (Vic High, Lambrick Park and Reynolds). Vic High is the first school to use SJ Willis as a swing space starting September 2020. Over $4M in upgrades to SJ Willis was added to Vic High’s budget of $79.7M.[3] This fact alone throws into question SD61’s claim that Vic High’s budget is subject to shortfalls.

Vic High Negatively Impacted: Role of District 61, CRHC, and City of Victoria

SD61’s Dec 7 report summarizing Burnside’s cost overruns reveals that $2M in anticipated revenue from the lease of over 2 acres of Vic High land was earmarked to offset the multi-million dollar deficit from Burnside’s mismanaged upgrade. The $2M appears to be referenced in the line item, “local capital.” The public has been led to believe that a lease of over 2 acres of Vic High land is necessary to offset a $2.6M funding shortfall for Vic High.[4] SD61 has not publicized an itemized budget for Vic High to verify the source of the $2.6M shortfall, despite requests since May 2020.  

The previously undisclosed deficit from Burnside’s upgrade appears to have created a domino effect causing SD61 to negotiate a lease of Burnside land to Pacifica Housing for $1M in 2017 to offset Burnside’s shortfalls.[5] The $1M seems to have been insufficient, leading to closed-door negotiations with the Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) to lease Vic High land. The land in question is Vic High land where the school’s Fairey Tech building used to stand – now proposed for housing. 

The December 6, 2020 Times-Colonist quotes SD61 Secretary-Treasurer Kim Morris as commenting that “the current [reduced] scope of the stadium and track came about as a result of consultation, and that the ultimate decision on the larger stadium project was made prior to the 158-unit housing project coming along.” 

There is no public record of such a consultation, and it was only in the past couple months that the downsized plan for the MSRP was disclosed to the public as a result of documents secured through freedom of information by the FOVH. 

Ms. Morris’s claim that the cancellation of the MSRP preceded lease negotiations is not supported by the history of MSRP plans. Phase 1 of Vic High’s MSRP was announced in January 2018, over a year before the negotiation of the 8-metre easement. [6]

Documents obtained through freedom of information reveal that in April 2019, nearly two years into negotiations, and at the request of the CRHC, SD61 granted an additional 8 metres of Vic High land apparently to provide access to ground floor units. Encroaching on Vic High land allowed the CRHC to build out to the lot lines agreed to in their lease agreement. This extra strip of land, dubbed the “8m easement” by SD61 and the “greenway” by the City of Victoria, reduced Vic High’s MSRP to a two-lane walking track. Later, SD61 blamed the reduced infrastructure on a lack of funding. 

Where else in the City is there a “greenway,” the width of a street, only 85m from a parallel street (Chambers St) with sidewalks on both sides? Why should Vic High have to give up infrastructure to accommodate the CRHC?

As we have shown, land use, not funding is the crux of the problem. Vic High’s seismic upgrade was and still is the perfect opportunity for an investment of provincial funding that would see the vision of the MSRP realized. But Vic High needs the land, the area of the 8-metre easement, to build it.

The entire premise of the proposed lease of Vic High land to the CRHC rests on the claim of a funding shortfall for Vic High’s seismic upgrade. The Dec 7 report throws this narrative into question by revealing that SD61 took $2M intended for Vic High to offset funding shortfalls for Burnside. 

The City of Victoria is both a vendor and a regulatory body in this issue (four of the Councillors who sit on the CRHC board also represent the CRHC as a developer).  Councillors are accountable for verifying that both SD61 and the CRHC engaged in a transparent manner before decisions are made about rezoning Vic High land.

Timeline:

o   April 2015 Carole James rises in legislature to give her support for the MSRP and to encourage the public to make donations [7]

o   September 2016 cost estimate of $2.6 million for the SJ Burnside Upgrade Project [8]

o   December 2016 cost updated to $4.8M [9]

o   2017-2019 costs for Burnside increase to $8.1M [10]

o   February 2018 SD61 enters agreement with Pacifica Housing for 88 units on SJ Burnside grounds: $1M lease for 60 yrs to help offset cost overruns. [11]

o   August 2017 SD61 starts negotiations with CRHC to lease over 2 acres of Vic High grounds for 158 housing units [12]

o   January 2018 Vic High Alumni Assoc announces Phase 1 of MSRP to be constructed with Vic High’s seismic upgrade. [13]

o   April 2018 public consultations about Vic High’s seismic upgrade. The public was not told about lease negotiations between SD61 and CRHC [14]

o   November 2018 Joint media release (SD61, CRHC, City of Victoria) about proposed Caledonia project on Vic High grounds [15]  “The project will not involve or impact the current greenspace areas used for the running track and school grounds on the Victoria High School site.”

o   April 2019 SD61 negotiates undisclosed “8m easement” with CRHC that forces cancellation of metric track [16]  

o   June 20 2019 SD61 public consultation about proposed lease (majority of slides about seismic upgrade—no mention of 8m easement or cancellation of track) [17]

o   June 27 2019 Ministry of Education funding announcement for Vic High’s seismic upgrade. SD61 claims that proposed lease required to offset $2.6M shortfall due to higher costs of “heritage” seismic option [18]

o   June 27 2019 Minister of Education Rob Fleming says, “Also included in the [seismic upgrade] project will be renewal of the “sports infrastructure” at the school. Because once upon a time Vic High was the powerhouse school in sports” [19]

o   Nov 12 2019 Public consultation re land disposal. Information about 8m easement and impact of 8m easement on MSRP withheld from public 

o   Nov 25 2019 Trustees vote in favour of land transfers that trigger lease to CRHC (trustees not told that proposed housing forces cancellation of metric track)

o   Jan 2020 Vic High amenities survey report [20]                                                      “New track and field (turf, lighting, etc.)” in top three                         

o   Spring 2020 Vic High amenities recommendations. [21]                                          “The District is not recommending the track and turf field due to the high cost.” Why did SD61 include the track in the amenities survey when they knew it was physically impossible to build due to the 8m easement that was negotiated in April 2019? 

Note: Amenities report cites $1.5M - $1.9M in funds allocated to amenities from lease to CRHC. Only $1.08M actually dedicated to amenities. 

[1] p 49  SD61 Long Term Facilities Plan                 https://www.sd61.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2018/11/GVSD61_LongTermFacilitiesPlan_20181113.pdf
[2] p 76 Agenda Package Dec 7, 2020 “SJ Burnside Upgrade Review” https://pub-sd61.escribemeetings.com/FileStream.ashx?DocumentId=420
[3] See 20-25 Response: SJ Willis Budget 

Go to vichighsaee/ website. Scroll down to “Looking for More Info?”  

Click on “Freedom of Information Requests and Responses” 
[4] https://www.sd61.bc.ca/news-events/media-releases/title/greater-victoria-school-district-approves-land-disposal/
[5] https://www.sd61.bc.ca/news-events/community/burnside-education-centre/
[6] https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/first-strides-toward-vic-high-s-stadium-reno-1.23147660
[7] Go to vichighsaee.ca/    Scroll down to “Looking for More Info?”   Click on Freedom of Information icon   to find doc for   “Carole James” 
[8] p 77 Agenda Package Dec 7, 2020 “SJ Burnside Upgrade Review” https://pub-sd61.escribemeetings.com/FileStream.ashx?DocumentId=420
[9] p 77  Agenda Package Dec 7, 2020 “SJ Burnside Upgrade Review” https://pub-sd61.escribemeetings.com/FileStream.ashx?DocumentId=420
[10] p 77 
[11] p 78
[12] See 20-25 Response: Aug 1, 2017 emails

Go to vichighsaee/ website. Scroll down to “Looking for More Info?”  

Click on “Freedom of Information Requests and Responses”
[13] https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/first-strides-toward-vic-high-s-stadium-reno-1.23147660
[14] https://www.sd61.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2018/05/Vic-High-Summary-May-2018.pdf
[15] https://www.victoria.ca/assets/City~Hall/Media~Releases/2018/2018.11.21_MR_CRHC%20Land%20Agreement%20Caledonia%20Project.pdf
[16] See 20-25 Response: SD61’s reply to CRHC request for setback   Go to vichighsaee/ website. Scroll down to “Looking for More Info?”  Click on “Freedom of Information Requests and Responses”
[17] See June 20, 2019 Public Consultation Meeting Records   Go to vichighsaee/ website. Scroll down to “Looking for More Info?”  Click on “Freedom of Information Requests and Responses”
[18] “Proceeding with a higher cost seismic option and the desire to create additional capacity, the Board is expected to contribute funds above and beyond what will be received from the Ministry of Education for the project. The Greater Victoria School District must contribute $2.6 million to the project.” https://www.sd61.bc.ca/news-events/community/vic-high-planning-for-the-future/
[19] https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/victoria-high-school-gets-77-1-million-from-province-for-seismic-upgrade-expansion-1.23869745
[20] https://www.sd61.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2020/03/Vic-High-Potential-Amenities-Summary-Engagement-Report-020620.pdf
[21] https://www.sd61.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2020/03/VICTORIA-HIGH-ENHANCEMENTS-AND-AMENITIES-RECOMMENDATIONS-Approved-1-5-Handout-Reg-Open-2020-03-09-E1c.pdf

 

 

 

 


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