B.C.’s Minister of Education was given the royal treatment at Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook on Tuesday, April 23.
Peter Fassbender, MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, visited the area this week by invitation of Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett.
“I’m delighted to be here with Bill in his riding and to see this school. I’ve heard a lot about it and I know they are working very hard to do some upgrades and they would like to see this school eventually replaced. I know it’s the number one priority,” Fassbender said after the tour.
Mount Baker Secondary School, which is 60 years old, has been slated for replacement for the past five years. In that time, four Ministers of Education have toured the high school to see how dire the need is for a replacement.
Fassbender was led through the school from classroom to classroom, visiting a busy drama room, a drafting class, passing by the small lunch room, and talking to students in the auto shop.
“The one thing I have learned is: buildings are buildings and it’s the people who are in it that make it what it is. I saw a lot of energy in this school and a lot of commitment,” Fassbender said.
Although he recognized the community’s efforts to plan for Mount Baker’s replacement with a Neighbourhood Learning Centre that includes the Key City Theatre, Fassbender said the province is focused on schools that require seismic upgrades.
“Our first priority right now is doing seismic upgrades around the province to ensure that all of our facilities in the high risk areas are safe. Then we will be looking at other priorities,” he said.
“It’s like everything: we have to look at the entire province and the priorities that we have. This community has made their case to our staff in terms of our capital budgets for the future.”
He was not able to say when the B.C. government might fund the replacement, estimated to cost at least $35 million.
“I can’t give a timeline, but I know that in this community this is the number one priority,” said Fassbender.
After visiting Mount Baker, the Minister travelled to the Elk Valley to visit Isabella Dicken Elementary in Fernie and Sparwood Secondary. He then returned to Cranbrook to meet with School District 5’s board of trustees.
Trustee Chris Johns, chair of the Mount Baker Replacement Committee, said the high school was a key discussion point at the meeting.
“Frankly, we’ve done more work and more public consultation on this NLC initiative than any other district in the province, including those districts who’ve been approved,” said Johns.
“We have key partnerships with the City of Cranbrook, Key City Theatre, our MLA Bill Bennett and most recently the Regional District of East Kootenay and (Kootenay Columbia) MP David Wilks. We just need a commitment from government to go ahead.”