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TDSB faces $3.4-billion renewal needs backlog

Local school board releases facilities data following provincial funding announcement
Thursday, September 8, 2016
By Michelle Ervin

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is staring down a $3.4-billion renewal needs backlog that the board says could balloon to a projected $4.7 billion in 2018 in the absence of sufficient funding. The TDSB recently offered a window into its backlog by making available online the facility condition index (FCI) and repair list for each of its 588 school buildings in what may be an Ontario first.

“To support our commitment to openness and transparency, we are posting our school repairs list and the condition rating of our schools on our public website,” said John Malloy, director, TDSB, in a news release.

Roughly 200 of the board’s school buildings rate as being in critical need of repair. However, the board noted that the 23,232 outstanding items on its repair list do not concern the health or safety of staff or students. Those types of issues get immediate attention.

The information, which is current as of July 2016, comes from an independent company engaged by Ontario’s Ministry of Education. The TDSB said that, going forward, it plans to publicly share annual updates to the previously internal ministry data, which it uses to prioritize repairs and replacements.

The board’s move follows an Ontario government announcement of additional dollars for school renewal. In late June, the province committed an extra $1.1 billion in funding for activities including repairing roofs and updating HVAC units, on top of the $1.6 billion previously earmarked for the school years spanning 2015 to 2017.

“Our government believes in better buildings for better learning and well-being,” Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter said in a news release accompanying the announcement. “Making sure schools across the province are in a state of good repair is an essential part of supporting student achievement.”

The TSDB’s share of the additional dollars, which were apportioned to school boards based on their renewal needs, adds $257 million to its funding for the period spanning September 2015 to August 2017, for a total of $579 million. The TDSB’s significant needs relate to the age of its buildings, which average over 60 years old and include 51 buildings over 95 years old.

“We have a $3.4-billion backlog in school repairs, but we know that the province’s new investments will make a difference,” Robin Pilkey, chair, TDSB, said in a news release.

The board attributed the build-up of the backlog to the province’s past underfunding of TDSB school repairs. Drawing on limited resources, the board has been forced to take a reactive versus proactive approach to maintenance, completing emergency repairs and extending the life of building components where possible.

“If we ever see a situation that has health and safety implications to the building occupants, we deal with it right away,” said Angelos Bacopoulos, associate director of facilities and urban sustainability, TDSB. “And that’s why every year, because we have such a huge backlog, we set a large portion of our dollars aside to deal solely with those types of situations.”

Roofing issues such as leaks, which have the potential to impact ceilings, floors, lighting fixtures and structural integrity, are one of the most common types of emergencies the TDSB responds to. The board maintains 25-million square feet of roofing, which, by Bacopoulos’ calculation, works out to the equivalent of 387 Canadian Football League fields. Other critical situations eliciting a swift response include burst pipes and flooding as well as boiler and PA system breakdowns.

The additional funding from the province will help the board to put a dent in its backlog. Plus, Bacopoulos added, some of the funding will be available for less critical, aesthetic items, such as painting and playing field upgrades, that have been neglected as more critical work takes precedence.

The province’s latest commitment builds on recent years of what the board recognized as “near-record level investments” for school repairs. The commitment also responds to the auditor general’s call in 2015 to prioritize renewal over new construction to the tune of 66.6 cents on each of these infrastructure dollars, as well as raise renewal spending to 2.5 per cent of the replacement value of schools.

The Ontario government said it’s allocating more than $12 billion over 10 years to school boards in support of school improvements, consolidations and construction.

Among the repair and upgrade projects completed ahead of the 2016/2017 school year was the renewal of brick work, flooring and roofing at George Harvey Collegiate Institute; boiler and painting at Rockford Public School; and HVAC, windows and play area at Bowmore Road Junior and Senior Public School.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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