The Greater Victoria School District Board of Education has voted in favour of a $73.3 million upgrade for Victoria High School.
The century-old school has been at the centre of a debate over whether to build an entirely new school to meet safety standards and capacity needs, or update the current space.
Board members voted unanimously for the seismic plus enhancements option, which includes upgrading the current building’s safety standards, adding capacity for 200 students and building a neighbourhood learning centre.
“We heard from more than 1,700 members of the community who strongly expressed the importance of school amenities and preserving this building due to its long history and landmark role in the community,” board chair Edith Loring-Kuhanga said in a statement. “Our staff have worked hard over the recent months to find a way to retain the original characteristics of the school while creating an improved learning environment for generations to come.”
Seismic upgrades will retain the exterior of the main four-storey building by enhancing the interior, with an emphasis on modernizing learning spaces for staff and students. New additions will include concrete stairwells, updates to the mechanical systems and the installation of a new fire sprinkler system.
“Seismic upgrades will be quite significant,” said Tom Ferris, Board vice-chair. “We’ll see upgrades to all the infrastructure: heating, lighting, plumbing, electricity… It will make it a greener school, cheaper to operate and with cleaner air from a new ventilation system.”
Plans include demolishing the school’s central stairwell, as well as some current office space, to create new classrooms. A two-storey addition will also be added to the east side of the school that will allow for 200 more seats, increasing the school’s capacity to 1,000.
“The board had to take into consideration the need for more space due to growing student enrolment,” Loring-Kuhanga said. “Victoria High School has reached capacity and we’re seeing a continuous upward trajectory in student projections for this and neighbouring catchments. The school addition will improve functionality and create the space for more students.”
The District wants to apply for funding for a $6 million neighbourhood learning centre, aimed at providing space for students and community-based programs and services.
“It will be a similar space as to what you see at Oak Bay High,” Ferris said. “It’s possible that we can put some childcare in that space, or for students to use the space during classroom hours, and we can even have students who are interested in early childhood learning to perhaps work in conjunction with caregivers there.”
Ferris said the Board is hoping to add childcare to Vic High’s professional program options once this space is available.
While the cost of the NLC is included in the total budget, funding for it would come from a different program than seismic upgrades.
SD61 superintendent Piet Langstraat will now present the board-approved plans to the Ministry of Education for consideration. If approved by the province, additional planning and public consultation for the upgrades will take about a year, and construction will take two years.
Vic High students would be moved to S.J. Willis during that time.