Ontario’s school buildings aging and in disrepair

Our news & views

December 04, 2015

Ontario’s Auditor General says, “The province needs to get a better handle on the condition of Ontario infrastructure to help it identify the most pressing overall provincial priorities.”

The Auditor’s 2015 report says that the province lacks guidelines for the conditions that must be maintained in its public facilities. The lack of guidelines and integrated planning – combined with an extremely high turn-over among the staff who assess applications for infrastructure funding – results in inconsistencies in which projects are funded and no assurance that the projects align with provincial priorities.

According to the report , many of the analysts responsible for making recommendations reported they “were uncomfortable with various aspects of the process used to analyze Infrastructure Planning, and that they wanted more training and standardization.”

Current funding priorities opposite of government’s own recommendations

The Auditor repeatedly points out in the report that the province has priorities in the wrong order. Over the next ten years, the government plans to spend 2/3 of its infrastructure budgets on new buildings and 1/3 on repairs, but according to the government’s own findings, those proportions should be reversed.

School repair falling far behind

Among the findings in the report, focused on education:

  • There are currently over 100,000 Ontario students in portables and 10% of schools are operating at over 120% capacity.
  • Approximately $2.6 billion worth of building projects to address overcrowding are submitted to the Ministry of Education by school boards each year, but over the last five years only a third of them have been approved.
  • Over 50% of schools are at least 40 years old.
  • The Ministry of education estimates that $1.4 Billion per year is needed to maintain schools in “a state of good repair,” but actual funding over the last five years has averaged approximately $250 million annually.
  • For the most part, new projects are favoured over repair and renewal of existing buildings, despite evidence that it should be the opposite
  • In 2011, the Ministry of Education hired a firm to inspect and assess the conditions of all schools that were five years and older. Eighty per cent have been assessed and the Ministry now estimates a total renewal need of $14 billion, with $1.7 billion deemed as critical and urgent (i.e., renewal work that should not be postponed due to risk of imminent failure).
  • The Ministry of Education allocates funding for school renewal based on an overall provincial formula rather than distributing the funding in proportion to individual school boards’ critical needs. The Auditor recommends changing that.
  • School boards can raise additional funds by selling schools with low enrolment, but many boards – for a variety of reasons and competing interests – are reluctant to do that.

To read the full report, click here

To read the Auditor’s press release on infrastructure spending, click here