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June 28, 2022

Open Letter Regarding Cedar Hill Middle School Replacement Project

The following is a letter from VICA’s CEO Rory Kulmala addressed to the Honourable Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education and Child Care regarding the proposed Cedar Hill Middle School replacement project.

Re: Cedar Hill Middle School – Shop Classroom(s)

Dear Minister Whiteside,

As I am sure you are aware, Greater Victoria School District 61 is currently reviewing requirements for the replacement of Cedar Hill Middle School (CHMS). The school has four exploratory classes in which all students participate over the three years they attend the school: Home Economics (Textiles & Food Studies combo), Art, Drama, and Tech Ed (Woodshop/Metal Shop combo). However, in the new school plans, the woodshop has been removed due to the estimated $500,000 average cost of the purchase and maintenance of the exhaust system required in the woodshop. It has been proposed that a Makerspace replaces the Woodshop.

As such, I must express my disappointment and concerns over the current direction of this project.

Our industry continues to struggle in attracting workers. According to BuildForce Canada, a national construction industry organization that provides key labour and market data for our sector, our “Industry faces the added challenge of replacing an aging labour force with the expected retirement of more than 41,000 workers, or 22% of the current labour force, over the next decade”. Further, “accounting for retirements and expansion demand, industry will need to recruit close to 59,650 workers over the coming decade”. Given the current tempo of construction, we are already experiencing significant challenges with meeting our skilled workforce demand. This is consistent with similar reports from WorkBC.    From an industry point of view, to address our future needs, we must pique the interest of our youth as soon as possible. We view our middle school-aged children as key to growing the future skilled workforce that our sector will desperately need. With that in mind, we cannot think that taking away resources and proper learning environments such as shop classes will help this cause. A properly equipped shop class is of great benefit for all students particularly those who are, or may not be, academically minded but demonstrate a high aptitude for such skills or interests.

With no access to the woodshop, basic skills with fundamental tools will be absent for 575 students per year; thus limiting the possibility of students selecting trades in high school, further into post-secondary, or even directly into the trades. We must start presenting the skilled trades to young people earlier in their education journey and creating a system that allows them to excel at shop and their continual interest in the trades upon graduation.

In your own words,

“Investments in schools are investments in student success, and we are putting more resources into buses, classrooms and schools so that students can thrive,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education. “That’s why our government continues to deliver on our commitment to support school districts in upgrading and maintaining their schools to ensure students are learning in safe, healthy environments.” (MoE News Release, March 15, 2022)

If a new building is going to be built, build it right the first time. Include a properly equipped shop class, install the required ventilation and equipment, and meet the needs of students. This is a long-term investment that will pay itself off in spades.

Time is of the essence as I understand the period to review requirements is nearing an end at which time I expect it will be presented to your Ministry for final approval.  As such, I would be happy to discuss this matter with you further and assist in any way possible as you explore this issue.

I look forward to your response and further collaborating with you as we mutually seek to support our sector.


Rory Kulmala
Chief Executive Officer


Honourable Harry Bains, BC Minister of Labour
Honourable Anne Kang, BC Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training
Ms. Deb Whitten, Superintendent, Greater Victoria School District 61
Mr. Chris Atchison, President, BC Construction Association