Burnside opens newly upgraded learning centre

The more than 100-year-old former Burnside Elementary School has reopened as an alternative and continuing education centre after a $6.5-million upgrade, including a seismic refit.

The 1913 school, which closed in 2006 during a time of falling enrollment, is now known as the S.J. Burnside Education Centre, and houses programs that have moved from what was S.J. Willis Education Centre on Topaz Avenue.

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The official opening, which included an Indigenous salmon feast to honour the land the building stands on, took place Monday, but the site has been operating since January.

S.J. Burnside principal Leah Moreau said the programs that moved from S.J. Willis include three streams: an alternative school for students in Grades 9-12; continuing education, which is for students from 16 to 60-plus to graduate, upgrade or learn new skills; and The Link, the district’s online learning program.

Moreau told the crowd at the opening ceremony that the building’s new name derives from S.J. Willis, to maintain tradition. But rather than the initials of the long-time namesake, the S and J now stand for Selkirk and Jutland, in recognition of the new neighbourhood.

Student Raine Shames-Mak, 15, named access to career-guidance information and the use of flexible timetables as benefits of attending S.J. Burnside.

“And S.J. has just been so good at providing not only those resources but so much more,” she said. “Coming here made me realize how much I truly love learning.”

Moreau said about 200 people involved in programs at S.J. Burnside attend on any given day.

“In just a few short months, the vibrancy and life in this building has been mind-blowing,” she said. “I have already had the pleasure and pride of witnessing students forming study groups in the library [and] in our little conversation areas in the hall. Teachers and students [are] making the most of our natural environment.”

There have also been students involved in protesting climate change, the creation of a large, collaborative art installation and weekly gourmet meals prepared for the entire school by the foods class.

“Every day, this building is alive and bustling, and we are just getting started,” Moreau said.

Plans call for a portion of the grounds to be used for 88 units of moderate-income housing, an effort that involves Pacifica Housing and the City of Victoria.

Education Minister Rob Fleming praised the work being done to add housing next to the school, as well as the educational activity.

“It’s not just about the delivery of alternate education and the revitalization of this magnificent, handsome building. It’s also about 88 units of affordable housing that this community desperately needs.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said that adding housing to the mix is part of an effort to create “a walkable urban village” in the area.

“The full project, when complete, will bring much-needed affordable family housing to the community, along with on-site childcare and other important services next to a school and on major transit routes,” she said.

School district secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh said the seismic work at Burnside lays the groundwork for further seismic improvements in the district.

Shifting programs to Burnside allows work planned for the S.J. Willis site to go ahead, he said.

S.J. Willis, in turn, is set to become home to secondary- and middle-school communities needing to relocate during seismic projects.

That includes plans to relocate Victoria High School to the S.J. Willis building while a $73.3-million expansion and seismic project is underway at the high school, said Walsh.

Work could begin as early as September 2020, with the district waiting for Education Ministry approval.

Upcoming in September is a seismic project at Braefoot Elementary.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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