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S.J. Willis programs face move as other schools get seismic upgrades

Programs could be moved from the S.J. Willis Education Centre to make room for high schools needing to be relocated during seismic refits in coming years — including Victoria High School, Reynolds Secondary and Lambrick Park Secondary.
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S.J. Willis Education Centre in Victoria.

Programs could be moved from the S.J. Willis Education Centre to make room for high schools needing to be relocated during seismic refits in coming years — including Victoria High School, Reynolds Secondary and Lambrick Park Secondary.

Greater Victoria School District has similarly used the former Richmond Elementary to temporarily house a series of elementary- and middle-school students while their own buildings were brought up to seismic standards.

The most recent school to use Richmond was Cloverdale Traditional, which moves back to its refurbished Quadra Street home in September.

Richmond Elementary was closed in 2004 due to declining enrolment, while S.J. Willis Junior High shut down in 1983 before reopening as a site for alternative high-school education, continuing education and administration.

The district plan calls for another former school, Burnside Elementary, to take in the S.J. Willis programs to free up the needed space. Burnside, which closed in 2006 — also due to declining enrolment — is currently leased by the Burnside Gorge Community Association through the end of September.

Vacating schools during major seismic work has allowed the projects to be completed “fairly efficiently,” said district secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh. But Richmond is not big enough for the larger student numbers at high schools.

Greater Victoria school board vice-chairwoman Diane McNally said an alternative has to be found. “We have to rotate the high schools out somewhere and the Richmond campus just wasn’t going to fit,” she said.

Work for Vic High, Reynolds and Lambrick Park has not yet been formally approved by the ministry, but “that’s the order we intend to go with,” said Walsh, adding Vic High needs extensive efforts to be earthquake-ready.

“Vic High has got a fair amount of remediation work required and so it’s going to be a pretty invasive project.”

Both S.J. Willis and Burnside would require refurbishing as part of the plan, Walsh said, noting public consultation on the concept will likely begin in September.

No formal approval has come from the province, Walsh said.

“They’ve supported us to plan, but they have not approved the final funding for S.J. or for the Vic High project.”

Walsh said the district will work with Burnside tenants that are subletting from the Burnside Community Association to try to find them other district space.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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