Despite opposition demands, province won't probe college; Courier story detailed VCC audit findings of 'non-compliance with life-safety laws'

By Stanley Tromp, Vancouver Courier, [Vancouver, B.C], 13 July 2011



The NDP is calling for a further probe of the relationship between Vancouver Community College and its former building manager, but the B.C. government says the problems have been resolved and no more action is needed.

The June 24 Courier cover story revealed how VCC hired KD Engineering of Burnaby to manage its buildings for 31 years until 2006 without any bids or a formal agreement, at times paying it more than $1 million a year. An audit by the B.C. Finance Ministry found "significant non-compliance with lifesafety laws," such as fire hazards and potential carbon monoxide poisoning, plus "general neglect over a long period of time."

"The B.C. government must do a review of this case," said Michelle Mungall, NDP MLA for NelsonCreston and the party's advanced education critic. "How did this happen, and for so many years? How can we prevent this from happening in the future?"

Vancouver East NDP MLA Jenny Kwan repeated the call. "Student safety is paramount," she said. "As the MLA for the area, I am sending a letter to the Minster of Advanced Education to follow up with the concerns identified by the audit and to seek their response."

Minster of Advanced Education Naomi Yamamoto (who had read the story but not the whole audit, calling it too "technical") told the Courier there is "no need" for more investigation.

"My first reaction was that any time student or faculty safety is at issue, it's a huge concern," she said. "We have to keep in mind that there was a potential for serious risk, certainly, but the good news is that nobody was hurt. This is a good example of government responding well. I think most of the audit's recommendations were done or are in process."

Langara College separated from VCC in 1994 but still employs KD Engineering to manage its buildings. Eli Zbar, spokesman for the Langara Students Union, said, "Pending at least some evidence that Langara is in a similar situation to VCC, I am inclined to think that Langara has the students best interest in mind, therefore, KD does, in some sense, deserve to stay with us." Nonetheless, he added, the LSU is bringing the issue to the attention of the Langara college board.

Mungall said it might be harder for colleges like VCC to perform more safety maintenance because in its last two budgets, the B.C. government cut back its "annual capital allowance" fund. Yamamoto countered that, while the cutbacks had indeed occurred, a few years ago the Liberals invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the ACA fund, and $10 million was invested in VCC to upgrade two buildings.

The auditors partially confirmed a complaint that the contractor charged for preventative maintenance work not fully performed. Yet when asked if VCC would seek any repayments from KD, VCC vice president of finance Peter Legg replied "the College is of the opinion that payments to KD were valid for the services performed."

VCC president Kathy Kinloch said: "I take very seriously our responsibility to provide VCC's students, staff and faculty with a safe learning and working environment." Longtime KD manager Alex Douglas did not respond to the Courier's emails, faxes and phone messages asking for comment.