Education space shuffles and continued talks between the Greater Victoria School District and the province pushed back the start date for seismic upgrades to Vic High another year.
In June 2018, the School Board voted for a $73.3 million upgrade to the 104-year-old school. The School Board submitted its report to the province for review, with a target start date of Sept. 2019 and finish date of 2021.
However, after extended consultation with the public and with engineers, the start date is now pushed to September 2020.
The largest delay to the project is finding space for students to move to while Vic High is under construction. Students will move to SJ Willis for two years, but SJ Willis was being used by the Burnside Education Centre while Burnside was being upgraded over the past year.
Now, SJ Willis will need to see upgrades before it is ready for Vic High students, a project that will take at least eight months.
“If you do the math we’ve run out of runway,” said Mark Walsh, secretary treasurer with the SD61. “The experience of moving mid year is complex, but moving 850 kids mid year would be really complex… that is why this project has got to be one of the most complex in provincial history.”
Walsh said that aiming for Sept. 2019 was optimistic.
“There’s a lengthy approval process, and a really high construction market,” Walsh said. “We were hopeful, but we knew from the get-go it was an ambitious date.”
Upgrades to SJ Willis will cost between $5-6 million, something that Education Minister Rob Fleming called an investment.
“There’s a requirement for swing space, and the Greater Victoria School District hasn’t done that for a high school project before,” Fleming said. “It will be available for Vic High, but also for Reynolds Secondary, which is on the list… it will have a purpose beyond being temporarily used.”
Once SJ Willis is complete, construction on Vic High can start.
Improvements would retain the exterior part of the building, but enhance the interior to supply upgraded learning spaces, new mechanical systems and the installation of a new fire sprinkler system.
The school would also likely see an upgrade to the theatre and to the athletic installments, including an all-weather turf field.
At the site, the School Board and the province also aim to work with the City of Victoria and the Capital Regional District to explore affordable housing and childcare opportunities, as well as a Neighborhood Learning Centre.
“It’s a really exciting proposal, it’s long overdue for the safety of students, parent and staff, but also an opportunity to invest in the oldest school in Western Canada,” Fleming said.
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