Crunched for time, Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Terry Lake turned to Twitter on Friday to announce the long-awaited trades and technology program for NorKam secondary.
The unusual announcement came the morning after Lake gave a heads up to Kamloops school officials, said Thompson school board chair Denise Harper.
"I had to sit on my hands yesterday" to not call the media and spread the good news, she said Friday.
"When he called, his explanation for it not being a big whiz-bang event was that he has a tight schedule," she said.
Lake was at an environment ministers' conference Friday, so there wasn't time to set up a formal announcement.
Harper said the deal will see the province contribute $6.3 million with the school district throwing in $1.1 million.
It offers students another choice — and might prevent some of them from dropping out of school, she said. They can gain enough technical training to get a job or to move on to post-secondary programs to further hone their skills further.
Patsy Bourassa, Canadian Home Builders Association Central Interior executive director, said her organization has supported the trades and tech school from the outset and had representatives on the advisory committee.
"We're coming into a trades shortage with mining and big industry, and not a lot of people have trades," she said.
"(It gives) them a taste of different kinds of trades . . . Even if they don't stay with it. It's all about having something you can fall back on."
Her association sees young people head north or to Alberta to earn hefty wages in mining. That's creating a growing need here for skilled trades workers, said Bourassa.
The trades and tech program has been on the district's radar for eight years. Despite heavy lobbying efforts, the Thompson school district had received no capital funds from Victoria.
"We even sought help from someone on how to get projects approved," said Harper. "It still was like pulling hen's teeth. It even sounds to me like the money didn't come from regular channels."
She thinks this because a week ago, Premier Christy Clark told delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities the province had millions to pump into projects in other districts but NorKam wasn't included.
A week later, Lake was tweeting that money is available.
"This has been on the top of my priority list since I was elected provincially," he said from Alberta. "It's been on the top of Kevin (Krueger)'s priority list for at least five years."
Lake said declining enrolment in the school district made it difficult to justify the capital spending, but this year those numbers stabilized and even rose a little, he said. The fact the district pared down the price from $9 million to $7.4 million also helped.
"The details in where the money comes from, this or that department, that will be sorted out later. We've got a commitment from government for $6.3 million, with $1.1 million coming from the school district."
The fact the program is focused on trades was a fit with the province's jobs plan, too, he added.
"A lot of things came together that tilted in our favour."
School district Supt. Terry Sullivan said the announcement means $7.4 million in construction on the North Shore, and will create a program to help slow declining enrolment at NorKam.
The plans, which involve adding space to one side of the secondary school, are ready to go.
"We've been prepared for this for some time. Our timeline is, start to finish, between 12 and 18 months," he said.
The facility will be adaptable so equipment can be changed out as demand for different trades changes, he said. At the end, students get a certificate.
NorKam's enrolment has been as high as 1,200 students. It was reconfigured two years ago to take students in Grades 10 to 12. In June 2011, it had 803 students, and last June it was down to 718. Next June's enrolment is projected at 700.
While the school also houses the district's international baccalaureate program, that is just getting started with 25 students this fall.
Both programs are expected to boost NorKam's enrolment.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix applauded the news, saying his party also pushed for the trades and tech centre and would have committed to it if the Liberals hadn't.
Krueger said Dix deserved no credit in putting pressure on the government for NorKam, pointing out the Liberals provided a mobile trades-training trailer to the school district as a precursor to the trades and tech program.
"This was always intended to be the next step. But then declining enrolment and the recession hit," he said.
Harper said the board's lobby efforts don't end with NorKam. Next on its priority list is a $12-million upgrade to the aging South Kamloops secondary that includes improvements to the gym and five new classrooms.
Those classrooms are needed so South Kam students can be moved out of the John Peterson building and Beattie students can move in, she said.
Lake said some of the South Kam improvements might have to come from the money the school district was allowed to keep when it sold off property to Telus for a data centre.
Half that money was supposed to go to government, but he and Krueger argued the district should keep it for improvements, he said.