St. Joseph's Catholic elementary school is building a new field on its property near McKenzie Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway as part of a $6-million expansion that includes eight new classrooms.

St. Joseph's Catholic elementary school is building a new field on its property near McKenzie Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway as part of a $6-million expansion that includes eight new classrooms.

Expansions, upgrades planned for Greater Victoria’s Catholic schools

St. Joseph's elementary school is undergoing a $6 million expansion to make way for students from the closure of St. Andrew's elementary

If you’ve driven, walked or cycled past McKenzie Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway lately, you may have noticed work crews clearing the large plot of land at the north-west edge of the intersection.

It’s not the beginnings of a wider highway or an interchange to ease traffic. The work is part of a $6-million expansion of St. Joseph’s elementary school, located at the corner of McKenzie and Burnside Road.

“We’re very excited. The Catholic Schools plan has been in the works for four or five years,” said Joe Colistro, superintendent of Island Catholic schools. “We’re excited to be showing, visually, signs of moving forward and building for the future.”

The existing St. Joseph’s was built in 1963 and accommodates some 200 students, kindergarden through Grade 7. But with the impending closure of St. Andrew’s elementary school (at Pandora Avenue and Vancouver Street), those students need to be moved to much-needed space.

The upgrades at St. Joseph’s include building eight new classrooms, a new library and computer, and upgrades to the staff room. The school playground will be relocated and a new grass playing field will be installed – that’s what’s being dug up at the corner of TCH and McKenzie.

Once construction of the new wing is complete, the existing building will be seismically upgraded. The expansion project is expected to be complete in September 2014, on a $6-million budget.

“That’s a tight budget for all the things we’re trying to achieve,” said Leah MacKenzie, chief financial officer with the Diocese of Victoria. “None of the capital funding is provided by the province, so any capital dollars we have to raise directly from parents or parishioners in our churches.”

Money raised from the sale of St. Andrew’s downtown will help ease the financial burden of upgrading.

St. Joseph’s is just the start. St. Patrick’s elementary and St. Andrew’s Catholic High School, both in Saanich, as well, will also be expanded and upgraded in the future.

“Those are on hold until more funding comes available, and we get through one successful project,” MacKenzie said. “We do have ideas, we do have plans – we’re excited about those (two projects), yet we realize we can only do one thing at a time.”

In all, Island Catholic Schools anticipates the school upgrades will cost an estimated $20 million.

Roughly 1,100 students attend the Catholic schools in Greater Victoria.

kslavin@saanichnews.com