The new Oak Bay High: ‘Love it, amazing, inspiring’

The $51.6-million replacement for Oak Bay High School pretty well got an A-plus from everyone taking the pre-opening tour Wednesday, following two years of on-time, on-budget construction.

Make that A-plus-plus.

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Three little words summed up the reaction of many: “I love it.”

More specific? “The latest and greatest” place for students to pursue their passions, said student Robert Lee, 16.

“Fabulous,” said Education Minister Peter Fassbender, adding that visiting schools is his favourite part of the job. “Something to be really proud of.”

“Amazing,” said Victoria school district board chairwoman Edith Loring-Kuhanga. “It’s excellent and so very needed.”

It’s the first new school built in the district since Colquitz Middle School in 2002. It will have both a First Nations student lounge/education centre and a totem pole, something that impresses Loring-Kuhanga.

“Inspiring to students,” said student Jasmine Lambert, 15.

“Three hundred sixteen projects and this is the most satisfying,” said project manager John Scheeren of Farmer Construction.

“So forward-thinking and so accommodating to the diversity that is our student population,” said Dree Thomson-Diamond, parent and fundraising volunteer.

The old school was “definitely a bit dilapidated,” said student Nicole Quast, 15, who was impressed by the open, light-filled 190,540-square-foot structure designed by Adam Fawkes of HCMA Architecture + Design. It is built to a gold environmental standard to reduce operating costs and carbon output.

No long dim hallways lined with lockers here. The school boasts a three-storey atrium and half-height lockers in open spaces topped with counters to facilitate homework, personalized learning or socializing.

Nicole, heading for Grade 10, said the design excels at facilities for athletics, academics, arts and leadership — the latter in the form of “so many different meeting rooms” that will allow student groups to gather. It manages to capture old school culture in a state-of-the-art new school, she added.

Tour leader and principal Dave Thomson said he was “over the moon” when the new school was announced and the feeling holds. “There’s just so much light and it just feels so good.”

There is high-speed Wi-Fi access throughout and classrooms equipped to broadcast student and teacher presentations from cellphones and laptops to wireless projectors. The school has room for 1,300 students and already has about 150 more students than usual applying from outside its catchment area who want to be part of it, he said, adding admission will depend on enrolment from within the boundaries.

The school was also designed with the community in mind. Workshops, art rooms and cooking facilities are built for use after hours, Fawkes said.

The school will house a Neighbourhood Learning Centre operated through Oak Bay Parks and Recreation with a separate entrance for a teen centre, activity space, day care and after-school care.

Facilities range from a huge new gym/auditorium, performing arts theatre with 420 seats available for sponsorship at $450 apiece, a computer lab on every floor and rooms with see-through doors, movable sound-proof walls with built-in whiteboards, and windows everywhere. Even the gym, with a shock-absorbing sprung-wood floor, has windows.

The list also includes:

• A library with 50 computer stations and a wall of glass facing Cadboro Bay Road

• Apple TVs in most every classroom

• International student centre

• A large darkroom for photography classes

• A flat-screen WayFinder installed at the entrance — a gift from Farmer Construction — to help ensure visitors don’t get lost.

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