Auditor raises questions about state of infrastructure in Horizon School Division

Saskatchewan’s provincial auditor says Horizon School Division needs to revamp its maintenance program to keep its facilities in satisfactory condition.

The school division owns and operates 38 schools and four other facilities in 30 communities, including Humboldt, Watrous, Lanigan, Kelvington and Wynyard. Auditor Judy Ferguson said Horizon did not fully utilize its facilities maintenance budget over the past three years, and has an estimated deferred maintenance of more than $70-million.

The auditor’s office has completed roughly a dozen maintenance audits in various departments and sectors, and Ferguson said they’ve identified “significant areas of concern” every time.

“Somehow as an office, we’re not being successful in getting the message out on the importance of effective maintenance,” she said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Ferguson identified fire protection, fire suppression and boilers as primary areas of concern. She reported seven sprinkler systems and 19 fire alarm systems that had unrepaired deficiencies more than a year after those problems were first reported.

There were also 23 preventative maintenance items that were not inspected properly. Those items include playgrounds and school boilers. Ferguson said there were no documented reasons why this was the case.

The audit found that staff had not properly documented the status of more than 20 per cent of all outstanding maintenance requests, and key information in the school division’s IT system was unchanged since 2017.

Ferguson said Horizon also needs to do a better job of maintaining up to date and accurate information about planned maintenance, completed projects and current facility conditions.  She said it’s difficult to tell how effectively current maintenance spending is without that information.

“Overall, Horizon needs to step back and determine if it is doing the right maintenance, and enough maintenance, to move its facilities to a satisfactory condition,” she explained.

The report shows 87 per cent of Horizon’s schools are more than 50 years old and, on average, in poor condition. Ferguson said this is in line with the provincial average.

The division has nine full-time equivalent maintenance employees with suitable qualifications, and spends, on average, $3-million to maintain its facilities.

Ferguson said school maintenance problems are not limited to Horizon School Division. She said all school divisions should know what maintenance standard their buildings should meet, how much maintenance costs, and properly track current conditions and planned projects. Ferguson said she’s not sure how many Saskatchewan school divisions actually do this.

The Daily Herald has sent email requests to Horizon School Division asking for an interview. The story will be updated if we receive a response before the end of the day.

On Tuesday, the provincial government announced plans to build four new schools, one of which will be in the Horizon School Division. The government plans to consolidate the elementary and high schools in Lanigan into one new K-12 school. The other new schools will be built in La Loche, Blaine Lake and Regina. The government also announced plans to renovate two high schools in Lloydminster. The total cost of the six new projects sits at roughly $110.5-million.

The provincial government has built 57 new schools and approved 23 major school renovation projects since 2008.

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