New Oak Bay High opening pushed back a year

Logistics, not funding, is the issue principal says

Oak Bay Community Association member Gerald Smeltzer

Oak Bay Community Association member Gerald Smeltzer

A new tentative date has been set for the opening of the new Oak Bay High school and neighbourhood learning centre.

Representatives with the school and the Greater Victoria School District hope to officially open the doors of the new facility at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

It’s a year later than the initial target date, but school officials say that’s a fair price to pay to make sure the project is handled correctly.

School principal Dave Thomson added that any worries the province might hold back its financial commitment are unfounded.

“I don’t think there are funding issues, but it’s a process, that’s for sure,” he said. “There were some questions asked by the Ministry (of Education) about specific sources of funding.

“It’s not disagreement, just clarification so that when the contract is there, all the pieces fit.”

Thomson is hopeful that the provincial Treasury Board will approve the final funding model for the project sometime in September. In the meantime, he’s doing everything he can to make sure things are ready to go as soon as they get the go-ahead.

“What we’re continuing to do is talk about the detail, talk to the user groups in our communities, talk about what we want to end up with, knowing that when we get Treasury Board approval, we’re in fast-track mode,” he said. “The quicker we get a shovel in the ground, the quicker we can be finished.”

It is expected that once final approval is given, it will take about six months to contract out the work on the $64-million facility. That would mean starting construction sometime next spring.

A delay in a project of this size is not unheard of, said Tom Ferris, chair of the Greater Victoria board of education.

“It would have been great if (the Treasury Board) had pushed the funding forward right away … but on the other hand I don’t know that anybody expected that to happen.”

Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong just so happens to be a member of the Treasury Board and has a unique perspective on how the system works. She’s mindful of the need for due diligence on the government’s behalf.

“I would be curious about what (funding) inconsistencies or concerns Treasury Board staff would raise, and I would want those questions answered,” she said.

“But I will have my local MLA hat on as well, sharing with my colleagues my support for this project.”

When complete, the new school will feature a more open concept and will include such features as a 450-seat performing arts theatre, and a neighbourhood learning centre, which will include space for a daycare, a teen centre and the hosting of community programs.

The project came about after a Ministry of Education study determined that a new school would cost less than making necessary seismic upgrades to the existing buildings.

The province initially allocated $54.2 million for the project. The remainder of the funds will come from various sources, including the municipality, the school district and community groups.

editor@oakbaynews.com