Local boards unaffected by cancelled repair fund
It appears work at local schools won't be affected by the Tory government's cancellation of a $100-million school repair fund.
Ontario's new Conservative government has cancelled the fund earmarked for school repairs this year, a cut that comes as a result of Doug Ford's campaign promise to scrap the province's cap-and-trade system.
School boards were notified on July 3 that the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund would be eliminated and that only work contracted on or before that date would be covered.
The memo, obtained by The Canadian Press, advises school boards to immediately stop spending the cash that was allocated in April.
"Please maintain detailed records of the contracts that have been signed as ministry staff will contact boards to collect information on the scope of the work underway," the memo said.
The province has an approximate $15 billion repair backlog at its 4,900 publicly funded schools.
Kimberley Newhouse, manager of communications for the Grand Erie District School Board, said the board received $1.23 million through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund in a memo announced in February.
"With that funding, the board ordered rooftop HVAC (heating and ventilation) units to replace aging units," said Newhouse. "These units were purchased in May. As a result, the board is not impacted by the cancellation of funding as described in the July 3 memo from the ministry."
Grand Erie's recently approved $326-million operating budget includes $25.6 million for investments into buildings, renovations, upgrades and repairs.
A highlight of the capital budget is $14 million for "school condition improvement," which includes conversion of libraries to learning commons, accessibility upgrades, roofing, paving and other necessary infrastructure upgrades.
Also in the capital budget is $3.2 million for child-care capital and $1.4 million for school renewal, which addresses minor and major restorative work such as flooring, lighting and painting.
The Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board also awarded its contract for school repair work before the July 3 deadline. The board was awarded $535,000 in 2017-18 and $250,000 in 2018-19 from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. In 2017-18 it was used for new boilers at Sacred Heart in Langton and St. Michael's School in Walsh. Those jobs have been completed.
For 2018-19, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will be used for new boilers at Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Simcoe.
Tracey Austin, manager of communications for the Catholic board, said the contract for that work was awarded prior to the July 3 deadline.
The Catholic board has budgeted $4.6 million this fiscal year for the upkeep of its schools. This, said Austin, includes money from Greenhouse Gas Reduction, School Renewal and School Condition Improvement.
"Continuing our proactive approach to school maintenance, including repairs, our facilities department contracted all work scheduled to prepare our schools for the 2018-19 school year before the funding cancellation was announced," said Rick Petrella, chair of the board. "Their forward thinking and co-ordinated project scheduling is supported by our approved budget and helps ensure that our schools remain safe and clean for students."
Some other school boards are going to suffer under the funding cuts. The Toronto District School Board has a $4-billion repair backlog. The board had budgeted $300 million for upkeep this fiscal year, including the $25 million it was awarded specifically from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.
Toronto board chair Robin Pilkey said they now face difficult choices about whether to scrap the projects or take the money from somewhere else.
The board had planned to use the funding to repair windows, lighting and complete other mechanical work in its schools.
Stephen Seaborn, spokesman for the education advocacy group Campaign for Public Education, said the cut will hurt schools across Ontario.
"It's bad," he said. "It was done just like as if it was nothing. There was no discussion about what would be done about the budgets of the schools."
Seaborn said the cancellation of cap and trade has clearly had unintended consequences and cutting funds for the renovation program is a prime example.
"My message for the premier is watch what you do," he said. "It has huge implications for two million school kids across the province."
Ford campaigned on a promise to eliminate cap and trade and revoked the regulation laying out the program as one of his first acts after he was officially sworn in on June 29.
-- With files from The Canadian Press
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