Oak Bay High School officially opened its doors yesterday with all but a final few elements still being finished up.
“It’s so much more than we could have ever believed possible,” says principal Dave Thomson, noting that the overwhelming response has been nothing short of gobsmacked. “So many people decided to get it right.”
Built with a budget of $55 million, the new school covers 151,000 square-feet and incorporates a flexible design that should help it meet the needs of students for most of this century.
The building replaces the former Oak Bay High, which had stood next door since 1929.
In 1993, a seismic report recommend major upgrades to that building. However, after further review, the decision was made to build a new school rather than retrofit the old one.
“You start to look at it and it’s more expensive to fix than replace,” Thomson said, noting that the old buildings had been there for years but they didn’t qualify as heritage.
Still, it was a special place for many former students and staff, and the new building incorporates many elements that pay tribute to the school’s history.
Thomson credits Farmer Construction, the local firm contracted to build the school, with making an extra effort to create a legacy.
“A series of things have happened that kept making this project more unique and special,” Thomson says.
One example is the social staircase, roughly in the centre of the building. It offers wide steps that are ideal for sitting and hanging out with friends. The wood used for the benches was milled from from a tree that once stood outside the old school.
“The whole idea is this place is a place you want to be,” Thomson says.
The stairs have conveniently located outlets for plugging in smartphone chargers. And there’s a massive projection-TV screen that allows students to watch programming while hanging out.
The school reflects the digital age in which it was built. For example, touchscreen displays around the school not only allow students to get information but they can easily share data as well.
The idea is to help students use their phones or other portable data devices to store homework or projects they’re working on for school.
“The way the school was built was to be as functionally adaptable as can be,” Thomson says, noting that secondary education is changing at a rapid pace – long gone are the days when it was considered adequate to group students in a class and “batch process kids in boxes of 30.”
“Our students have a lot more knowledge and skills than we had when I was going to school.”
Over the summer, as construction progressed and staff were allowed to start working inside the building, students started trickling in to check out their new home.
Almost to a fault, Thomson says, their jaws dropped as they stepped inside.
“It’s so beautiful – the amount of light, the amount of space – you don’t feel institutionalized, which is what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The building is expected to be officially completed by next spring.