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Greater Victoria's school archives could get a permanent home

The Greater Victoria school district’s vagabond archives could be finding a permanent home in the former Bank Street Elementary. The collection, moved from Central Middle School to S.J.
The former Bank Street Elementary School is being considered as the ultimate base for the Greater Victoria school district archives.

The Greater Victoria school district’s vagabond archives could be finding a permanent home in the former Bank Street Elementary.

The collection, moved from Central Middle School to S.J. Willis Education Centre last spring, and has to move again because S.J. Willis will eventually become swing space for schools having to relocate when their buildings receive seismic upgrades.

The archives’ latest series of journeys started when the space being used for their storage at Central was needed for a classroom. It was a scenario seen around the district, with additional classroom space being needed to comply with the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that restored B.C. teachers’ 2002 contract language regarding class size and composition.

Archives volunteer Judi Stevenson has called the archives “a bit of a bouncing ball” in the district because of the moves that have had to be made over the years.

While the Greater Victoria school district dates to 1946 — the product of an amalgamation of Esquimalt, Oak Bay, south Saanich, Victoria and what is now View Royal — archival material goes back decades before that.

The archives contain thousands of items ranging from pieces of art worth as much as $20,000 to trophies and school pictures. It took about a dozen moving-truck loads to transfer the goods from Central to S.J. Willis.

District staff recommended that the Bank Street site become the ultimate base for the archives.

A report by district secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh said the building is not big enough to be a modern school, and since it has not been seismically refurbished it would be logical to use it for something that is not a core part of the education system.

The building dates to 1911, and closed as a regular school in the early 1970s. The Victoria College of Art has used it for about 40 years, while the former Sundance Elementary next door is leased to school district 93, B.C.’s francophone-education authority, as an annex for École Victor-Brodeur.

“You certainly wouldn’t put kids in Bank Street without seismic upgrading on a permanent basis,” Walsh said in an interview. “We’re talking well over a million dollars to make it a publicly accessible space.

“For our immediate purposes, minor upgrades of a relatively insignificant cost will suffice.”

The archives could be moved in while further planning takes place, Walsh said.

The idea is that space can be shared with the art college “for the time being at the very least,” he said.

Walsh’s report said Bank Street is large enough to accommodate the archives and other users, and could perhaps provide rental space for the community.

At some point, big steps have to be taken at the building, he said. “The roof is looking like it needs work and the electrical needs work and the plumbing needs work,” he said. “All these major features of this historical building need to be addressed sooner rather than later, otherwise we do risk the long-term viability.”

The recently rejuvenated Greater Victoria Foundation for Learning could be used to raise funds to support the archives, the report said.

Walsh is part of a group that visited the Edmonton school district archives this week to look at how the archives are run there, and said it is an impressive operation.

“They have 8,000 kids that come in and out of the facility a year as a part of their educational program, in addition to the actual archives purposes,” he said. The archives are located in a former school much larger than Bank Street, Walsh said.