Starting in 2020, Victoria High will be seismically upgraded while preserving the building’s heritage and increasing enrollment space

›› Jordan Watters

In the heart of Fernwood, Victoria High has stood as an iconic landmark for over a century, and it will continue to proudly serve the community for 100 years more thanks to support from the community and province. ­Beginning in 2020, Victoria High will be the focus of one of the most complex seismic upgrades in the province’s history which will see the building’s architectural heritage ­preserved while also increasing the school’s ­capacity, adding amenities, and supporting improved community access.

The Greater Victoria School Board is thrilled Victoria High is receiving nearly $80 million for seismic upgrades and an addition to support increasing enrolment. The project will provide a safe school that students and staff deserve, while ensuring a key part of Victoria’s history continues to stand.

Student safety is the top priority for our Board of Education and Victoria High has been a priority of ours for some time as it currently has an H-1 seismic ranking, the highest risk of earthquake damage. In the Spring of 2018, Greater Victoria School District staff embarked upon a ­consultation process with the Fernwood community that included stakeholder meetings, open houses and a survey. To date, more than 1,700 people have ­provided feedback.

In response to the community, District staff put together a plan to seismically upgrade Victoria High, preserve the building’s heritage, add a two-story addition to accommodate an additional 200 students, and include a Neighborhood Learning Centre that provides space for community-based programs and services. While this plan required funding above and beyond the cost of replacing the school with a new build, the Board felt inspired by the ­community to dream big and put forward a plan that truly reflected the ­community’s needs and desires.

This past June, the Province announced it will be investing $77.1 million into the Victoria High project, putting our ­ambitious plans in reach once and for all. The District will contribute the remaining $2.6 million required for the project. Exterior elements, such as terracotta, granite and brick masonry, will be retained. ­Interior features, including the marble and art glass in the main entrance and lobby, and the painted wood panels and art glass in the auditorium will also be preserved. The biggest change will be the modernization of learning spaces for staff and ­students, so that while the iconic ­elements of the building’s heritage remain, interior spaces will be updated to support 21st ­century learning.

The School District’s financial contribution to the project and any improvements or additions of amenities will come from a proposed lease agreement with the Capital Region Housing Corporation following land exchanges with the City of ­Victoria and BC Housing. The School District hosted a consultation meeting at the end of June to discuss the use and disposal of lands.

As we move forward, the Board will be looking for ongoing feedback from the community. Victoria High has always served as a community hub, but we believe the connections between the broader ­community and the school can be strengthened. We want the community to enjoy a sense of belonging and have pride in the school, and we know that ensuring community access to school amenities and the services of the Neighborhood ­Learning Centre will be central to fostering this sense of connection.

To this end, a visioning group has been established that includes representation from the District, Victoria High, City of Victoria, First Nations, community, parents, and students. This group will be active throughout the life of the project and will work to advise the Board of ­potential opportunities, amendments and ­partnerships to support a successful ­project. They will also support the next phase of community consultation about potential future amenities which will be underway this Fall. We hope to ­continue enjoying a high level of community ­engagement, as we know that will help us deliver an upgraded Victoria High that meets the needs of its community.