Province boosts budget for Handsworth rebuild in North Van

Delays likely to push project completion to September 2022

A rebuild of North Vancouver’s Handsworth Secondary is moving ahead this month, despite delays that have pushed the project over its original budget and likely a year beyond the original completion date.

Tenders went out on the construction project last week after the province agreed to boost the budget for the Handsworth replacement.

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The cost to rebuild the local high school on its existing site was originally budgeted at $62.3 million, but the latest cost estimates had created a $6-million “funding gap,” superintendent Mark Pearmain told trustees in November.

Last week, the school district received word the ministry had approved extra funding for the project, although neither the school district not the province would confirm the amount until after bidding on the project has completed. Tenders have now gone out, said spokeswoman Deneka Michaud, and are expected to close in January.

Rising costs of the school rebuild were partially caused by construction delays, said Michaud, which included “premium costs to construct on the North Shore” due to a limited number of locally available contractors, availability of materials and transportation constraints. It also included a delay in the spring getting permits from the District of North Vancouver.

The district approved permits for the school at the end of May following a six-week delay for neighbourhood consultation on traffic and parking.

Delays could also impact the scheduled opening of the new school. Students may not be walking through the doors of the new Handsworth school until September 2022, according to North Vancouver MLA Bowinn Ma – a full year after the move-in date originally anticipated.

Ma said despite the delays, she’s glad to see the project finally moving ahead. “I think it’s obvious a new school is needed here,” she said.

The school district expects to provide a more definitive update on the construction schedule, budget and anticipated move-in date in the new year, said Michaud.

The new Handsworth school will be 139,931 square feet – a reduction of 13,239 square feet from its current footprint. While Handsworth’s current enrolment is 1,471, the new school will have a capacity of 1,400.

The ballooning construction budget for Handsworth followed a similar trajectory to the Argyle rebuild project.

When the Argyle rebuild was first announced by the then-Liberal government in June of 2016, the project was pegged at $49.2 million. But the start of the project was delayed and then none of the bids came in close to the budget target. The province eventually approved an extra $12 million to deal with extra costs on the rebuild. School trustees also voted twice to boost the budget – first putting an extra $4 million towards the rebuilds of both Argyle and Handsworth, then approving another $1.5 million in contingency funds for Argyle to ensure the school rebuild – currently underway on the site -– is finished on time.

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