Members of the Oak Bay High track teams join Oak Bay firefighters Riley Ireland

Firefighters aim to replace failing bus for Oak Bay High

State-of-the-art new school needs to replace 17-year-old bus

While the Ministry of Education announced plans to build a new $50-million state-of-the-art school and Neighbourhood Learning Centre at Oak Bay High in 2011, the province overlooked one key element of school life that needs updating: its 17-year-old bus.

The 24-person chariot has carried students to music events and athletics championships locally and provincially since it was purchased in 1997 with benefactor funds, but now the some $7,000 annually in repairs has begun to outweigh the cost of purchasing a new bus, despite its hefty price tag of about $90,000. Like other high schools in urban districts where regular bus service isn’t offered, schools within the Greater Victoria School District are left to fundraise the cost of extra-curricular activities on their own – including purchasing school buses.

“Everyone’s after more money,” said Keith Butler, vice-principal of Oak Bay High and former coach at the school. “In some ways our district does more to support our coaches than a lot of districts do, but if we want a bus to help our coaches out and make our program run, it is (the athletics department’s) responsibility to do it.”

The District has allotted $28,000 toward secondary school athletics – $4,000 per school – and pays $50,000 annually to the Lower Vancouver Island Secondary School Athletics Association, which helps offset costs of participation in provincial and national championships. It simply does not have the funds available to purchase $90,000 vehicles.

Enter the Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation.

The firefighters have long backed students through their annual Christmas tree chipping event to raise bursary funds. This spring they’ll show off the formal manifestation of their support with the official launch of their newly registered charity during a gala evening to buy the school a new bus.

“It’s in pretty sad shape from a safety standpoint,” said foundation spokesperson and former Oak Bay student Greg Swan, of the school’s bus.

The Charitable Foundation also supports Mustard Seed, C-FAX Santas Anonymous and the Terry Fox Foundation.

“But community-wise,” Swan added, “we’re looking to support the schools in a greater way, and the students and parents of those schools.”

The gala is set for June 7 at Victoria Golf Club and includes a prime rib dinner, auction and words from Don Horwood, a coach at Oak Bay High from 1969-78, former head coach at the University of Alberta and three-time recipient of the Canadian Inter-University Sport coach of the year award. Tickets to the event come in at $200 each or $350 per couple and include wine and a tax receipt.

“The ultimate goal is $90,000. It’s a little lofty in one night,” Swan admitted.

The concept of booster club funding isn’t a new one, Butler said, adding that he hopes the community will come out and support the community event, regardless of any political reasons for underfunding.

“If you’re playing sports and getting opportunities to travel and play other teams, there’s a value in that for the kids,” said Dave Thomson, Oak Bay High principal. “You’ve gotta figure out a way to pay for it.”

“This is not something that every school has and we know it’s a big part of our support mechanism,” Butler said. “For team-building, it’s the best way to travel because you have everyone together.”

To purchase gala tickets, or to learn more about the Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation, visit oakbayfirefighters.com.

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