The future of Bank Street school could be determined this fall and it could mean tearing down the 107-year-old building.
To accommodate its fast-growing student population Greater Victoria School District 61 rejigged the catchment boundaries in 2019. It has meant moving back into empty schools such as Richmond elementary (which will be an expanded south campus of Lansdowne middle school) and reopening tandem of the Bank Street and Sundance elementary school buildings.
However, both buildings need seismic upgrades if they are to meet the Ministry of Education’s standards.
The school district said last year that the preliminary estimate to seismically upgrade Bank Street, which only has four classrooms and is in poor condition, is well into the millions.
“One option is to seismically upgrade both,” said Kim Morris, SD61 secretary treasurer. “The other is to demolish bank school and seismically upgrade and expand Sundance.”
The topic will be discussed at the SD61 operations, policy and planning committee on Monday.
In the meantime, the City of Victoria is also considering the heritage value of the building. While aesthetically pleasing from outside, a superficial inspection of Bank Street submitted in a report to the city revealed the building has had “few, if any” upgrades since being leased out to the Victoria College of Art in 1975.
The ceiling leaks and it needs a new slate roof. It has no fire protection or fire alarms installed. It has asbestos in the wall and ceiling assemblies and in the attic’s vermiculite insulation. It also needs new electrical and lighting upgrades.
A building condition assessment by D. Mattson Construction Services estimated the costs of rehabilitating the heritage building at around $7.5 million while a replacement building could come in under $5 million. But a replacement building may not be necessary if Sundance, which was originally built as an annex to Bank school, is upgraded and expanded instead.
Council directed staff to retain qualified consultants to complete an independent building condition assessment and a market value assessment of the property. The hope from Victoria council is to have that done soon, as SD61 needs to move forward on construction to house students. It already has a kindergarten class of Sundance students who are using a room at Willows elementary.
“There is no doubt there is a significant number of residents who will be interested in trying to retain the Bank Street school with the acknowledgment that there’s a very large price tag attached to that,” said Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto, the liaison for the South Jubilee neighbourhood. “There is a willingness to be part of a conversation as to whether or not there is a way to protect this [building] in some way.”
Another major issue with Bank Street is that there is no level ground access, it’s stairs only.
“We need information on costs of an elevator,” said Coun. Geoff Young. “If there was ever a school that said, ‘if you have a mobility disability, find yourself another school to go to,’ this is the school that said that. This building typifies the attitude to access of 100 years ago, which is, this school is for ‘normal’ [able-bodied] people, everyone else go somewhere else.”
There are seven SD61 school buildings on the Victoria heritage register, George Jay (1909), Vic High (1911), Quadra School elementary and Annex (1914), Oaklands school (1913), Margaret Jenkins elementary and annex (1913), Burnside school (1913) and Quadra primary (1921).
SD61 has committed $2.6 million into the current Vic High remodel (with $77 million in provincial funding).
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