The $79.7-million seismic upgrade and expansion at Victoria High School has been delayed by a year, with staff and students now scheduled to move back in September 2023 instead of September 2022.
That means the school community will have added time operating out of an alternate site at the former S.J. Willis Education Centre.
That site is on Topaz Avenue near Quadra Street and Hillside Avenue, while Vic High is on Grant Street in the heart of Fernwood. The plan is to also use the S.J. Willis facility for relocating other schools undergoing seismic refits in the future.
S.J. Willis was a school until 1983 and then became the location for a number of Greater Victoria School District programs.
The district said issues linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and the general scope of the Vic High work are affecting the project, which got underway in July 2020. The age of the building, which dates to 1914, has also been a concern and has led to a need for such steps as installing temporary supports while construction has gone on, the district said.
“We expected there to be a few surprises when we started opening the walls of a school built over a century ago but we did not anticipate the market pressures on resources and material availability,” said district superintendent Shelley Green.
Associate director of facilities Jim Soles said working on a building over a century old has been the biggest issue.
“Bottom line is there are a lot of complexities and then we get into a whole bunch of existing structural issues,” he said. “You take a floor off and you find the slabs are cracked and have to do repairs.”
He also pointed to a general shortage of workers in the region as a concern, and like Green said there have been issues with getting basic supplies.
“The supply chain isn’t performing very well right now because of COVID,” he said.
Soles said the factors contributing to the delay have simply added up. “It’s sort of a bit of everything.”
The revamp of Vic High will include an expansion from an 800-student capacity to 1,000, along with a neighbourhood-learning centre with child care and other services. The historic facade of the building will be retained, including terracotta, granite and brick, along with marble, stained glass and painted wood panels inside.
The original Vic High was opened in 1876 in a log building at what is now Central Middle School. It is the oldest high school west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco.
The district is contributing $2.6 million to the project and rest is coming from the province.
Vic High principal Aaron Parker said students and staff have fared well at their temporary location since moving there last September.
“We’ve settled in quite nicely,” he said. “The classrooms are big, hallways are big. It’s obviously dated but it’s a very functional site and has a beautiful location.
“The sunrise every morning is pretty impressive.”
Vic High Alumni Association chairwoman Donna Lomas said the delay is unfortunate but understandable.
“It’s got to be very disappointing for the students and the staff, and we really feel for them,” she said. “But at the same time, we want a really good and successful project that’s going to result in Vic High being there for many decades to come.
“What with the pandemic and different things I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.”