World-class athletes have signed an open letter to the City of Victoria, the Greater Victoria School Board and B.C.’s education minister protesting a plan to reduce the proposed track at Vic High from the regulation eight lanes to just two.
Ironman Hawaii world champion Lori Bowden, former Canadian World Cup rugby captain Hans de Goede and Super Bowl champion Moe Elewonibi are among those who have signed the letter.
“Vic High is already the left-behind school,” said Stephen Dorsey, head of the group that is asking for reconsideration of a plan to reduce the track lanes in order to make room for an adjacent affordable-housing project.
“The City of Victoria is taking land away for housing. That means the eight-metre track can’t be built as promised. That has enraged a lot of people,” added Dorsey, who graduated from Vic High in 1984.
“Every other high school in the region seems to be getting shiny new things, like university-level theatres,” Dorsey said. “And Vic High is left with a two-lane walking track. It’s a matter of equality.”
The housing plan also involves the Greater Victoria School District, the Capital Region Housing Corporation and B.C. Housing. The Greater Victoria school board agreed to a land swap that permits land at Vic High to be leased for the housing project.
The school district will receive up to $1.9 million to fund features such as an observation deck for astronomy and outdoor instruction, a new fitness-health classroom that includes a weight area, and up to $400,000 for the bleachers and other elements still to be part of the stadium.
Dorsey said infringement of the housing project onto the original footprint of the revamped Memorial Stadium plans means that even the field will not be full size and that rugby won’t be able to be played on it.
Greater Victoria School District secretary-treasurer Kim Morris said the current scope of the stadium and track came about as a result of consultation, and that the ultimate decision on the larger stadium project was made prior to the 158-unit housing project coming along.
“In 2008 we consulted about options for Vic High, for the seismic project,” she said. “In 2019 we consulted on the land disposal and then in early 2020 we consulted on the amenities.
“And in the amenities engagement, the track didn’t rise to the top in terms of priority. We later heard from alumni that they’d not been able to raise the funds.”
A $7-million stadium renewal was planned before the housing project plans came into place. The stadium project is considered supplemental to Vic High’s $79.7-million seismic upgrade. The Victoria High School Alumni Association has raised nearly $600,000 toward the stadium, including more than $150,000 from members, $100,000 from the Bays United Football Club and the promise of a $250,000 matching grant from the City of Victoria.
Plans included an eight-lane track, all-weather field, new bleachers and lighting and a new field house. The project was expected to proceed in four stages, as funding was realized, with the all-weather field going in first, followed by the field house, the track and bleachers.
Bleachers, lights and a field house are also part of the smaller project.
Tom Turnbull, who graduated from Vic High in 1977 and was a member of the track and field team, expressed dismay at the new plans.
“To get hopes up for a regulation track to now this two-lane track is devastating,” he said.
Turnbull has coached track and field for 37 years, the last 26 at Lambrick Park Secondary.
“Other areas of town get all they need, so kids from this [Vic High] area go to those other schools,” he said. “It’s sad and upsetting.”
Victoria-based Christopher Kelsall, managing editor of Athletics Illustrated, concurred.
“The proposed standardized eight-lane track and artificial turf field will allow Vic High to return to B.C. provincial school sports of rugby, soccer and track and field,” Kelsall said.
“Many of the international athletes that I have talked to have unanimously expressed that a two-lane walking track will be useless for Vic High in participating in a provincial high school sport of track and field,” he added. “This proposition of a two-lane walking track for Vic High is absolutely useless.”
Morris said the refurbishment and expansion of Vic High came after years of effort, and the stadium project was never something the school district was going to be able to fund.
“I think that given the vision or the concept of the stadium and the length of time it had been fundraised for and the constraints of capital funding — both by our partners and by us with the Ministry of Education — I don’t think we were going to get a project that could do everything for everyone.
“We can’t do it all, so we do what we can.”