Community links key at capital region's new schools

Three new high schools slated to open in September 2015 are starting to take shape at sites around the capital region.

Each will have unique features: there will be perhaps the largest school gym on Vancouver Island at the new Belmont Secondary, a rooftop basketball court at the new school in Royal Bay and a state-of-the-art community theatre — the result of a district/municipality partnership — at Oak Bay High School.

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The walls are already beginning to rise at the new $52.5-million Oak Bay school, where foundation work is largely complete. Students are attending the existing school while the new building goes up on nearby playing fields.

New fields are part of the final plan, but in the meantime, the school is shifting some of its athletic activities a few kilometres away to Windsor Park.

“The steel is on site, and over the next few weeks, you’ll see the outline of the building start to show up,” said Seamus Howley, director of facilities for the Greater Victoria school district. “We’re looking forward to 2015 when we’ll open the place.”

New high schools don’t come along too often, said trustee Michael McEvoy. The Oak Bay project marks the district’s first new high school in over 30 years, when Spectrum Community School was built, he said.

McEvoy touted the school’s Neighbourhood Learning Centre, being planned in concert with Oak Bay council.

“We’re working to together to make sure that it’s obviously going to meet the educational needs of our students, but also meet the needs of the community.”

Similar steps to include the community were taken in recent years during construction projects at Colquitz and Gordon Head middle schools, McEvoy said.

“These are community assets. Schools shouldn’t be just 8:30-to-4 places.”

In the Sooke school district, trustees have long planned for two high schools — the new Belmont and Royal Bay schools — to replace the large existing Belmont complex.

Construction on the new $54-million Belmont is underway at the site of the former Glen Lake Elementary, while a second high school valued at $40.8 million is being built on district-owned land in Royal Bay.

At the new Belmont, neighbours are seeing walls going up in one of the building’s three “blocks,” said Sooke superintendent Jim Cambridge. “All the blasting’s complete.”

Neighbours have been consulted about traffic, tree issues and other concerns at both sites, he said.

Aside from its large gym, which has seating for 1,000, the new Belmont will also feature a Neighbourhood Learning Centre that includes an agreement with Camosun College to offer first-year post-secondary courses, Cambridge said.

Royal Bay will have a teaching kitchen as well as a theatre, with the municipality of Colwood as a supporter.

The school’s rooftop basketball court is made possible by the grade of the property, and is the result of some creativity by the builder, Cambridge said.

The court will not cost the district any extra money, he said.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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