School district ponders future of Vic High: Demolish or repair?

The future of Victoria High School, which has stood at its Grant Street location since 1914, will be decided in the coming months.

Options for the site, which is considered to be at high risk seismically, include upgrading the school or demolishing it and building a new one, with estimated costs ranging from $50 million to $110 million.

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Tom Ferris, vice-chairman of the Greater Victoria school board, said he is aware of the historic value of Vic High and the attachment that many people have to it. He said one of the options presented involves tearing down the old school, but noted there is a choice to be made.

“I don’t live next door to the school,” he said.

“I do live in Victoria and so for me Victoria High School is very important and I do understand the heritage value of it.”

Many of the school’s students fought in the First and Second World Wars, he said, noting that it “has a classic facade [that] is very pleasing to look at.”

School district officials said Thursday that there are three options for the site, which is rated at the highest level of seismic need:

• Build a new 1,000-student school, with the old school removed — $50 million to $60 million

• Undertake seismic upgrades with improvements to such things as plumbing and electrical systems, for 850 students — $60 million to $70 million

• Retain the exterior and redo the interior, for 850 students — $100 million to $110 million

The community will be able to weigh in through open houses, community consultations and an online survey.

District superintendent Piet Langstraat called Vic High “an iconic building in Victoria.”

“That’s very much why the board wants me to go out to the community,” he said. “It will be very interesting to see what the community has to say, what the City of Victoria has to say.”

Ferris said the board is anticipating a lot of interest in the project. “I think it’s something which influences a lot of people over the long run — a lot of students but also the neighbourhood and many, many issues.”

“We want the best possible facility for the students in our school, so our hope is that whatever the outcome is, we have a first-class learning facility.”

Vic High is currently at capacity with 850 students in grades nine through 12. The district says there are 300 students in the school’s neighbourhood catchment that cannot be accommodated at the site.

Ferris said Vic High has been well up on the list of district schools needing seismic work for several years.

“I think it’s very urgent,” he said. “We don’t want our kids to be in a building which is not safe. So every time that we’re able to do a seismic upgrade, there’s a sense of relief in the school district.”

Open houses are scheduled for April 7, 9 a.m.-noon, and April 18, 5-7 p.m., both in the Vic High gymnasium, 1260 Grant St.

Langstraat said public input will be compiled and presented to board trustees in May, with recommendations coming forward in June for a possible board decision.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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