Unique building process applied to Oak Bay High project

Variances for height and parking get go-ahead

The potential layout of the new Oak Bay High school seems to be coming together, but the actual design of the school remains a mystery.

Variances regarding the proposed height and parking on the school site were approved in a committee of the whole meeting Monday night.

Based on a design build concept, as mandated by the provincial government, council must approve building variances, as requested by facilities staff of the Greater Victoria School District, before a building design is created.

The method is a novel one, that neither the municipality nor the GVSD has used before, Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said on Tuesday.

“It allows the builder to come forward with ideas that are leading edge and innovative, and environmentally sustainable.”

The process has been used throughout the province, including currently at Chilliwack Secondary and Alberni District Secondary schools.

“The process is designed to allow for school districts… to be able to get the best dollar value for the project,” said Seamus Howley, director of facilities with the GVSD.

“The variances that we’ve requested from Oak Bay enable us, as the owner, to give the proponents – the designers – maximum flexibility to design the building on the property.”

The goal is to provide the potential designer with as few restrictions as possible, Howley added.

Proposed bylaw amendments include: changing the zoning of the current Cranmore Street student parking lot from residential to institutional, as well as paving a dirt parking area on Goldsmith Street, used by at least 40 municipal staff and the general public, to fit a minimum of 95 cars; allowing the height of a section of the three storey school to be 17.4 metres, 3.4 metres more than allowable; and agreeing to a minimum of 195 parking stalls on the site instead of the municipal bylaw’s stated 260. The school currently has 125 spots.

“There’s good support for these changes around the table,” Jensen said. “And certainly, given the fact that we engaged the community (in the project) very early on in this process … I believe there’s very good support in the community for these changes.”

Once the bylaw amendments are finalized, it would be up to the school district to incorporate the changes in its request for design proposals, Jensen said.

Although Coun. John Herbert expressed concerns over a lack of public input in the project during Monday night’s meeting, Jensen said that would not be the case.

“That was one of the assurances we had (Monday) night. That there would be continuing input from council and the community.”

Council will look at the approval at its next regular council meeting Monday (Aug. 20).