Reopening of B.C.'s oldest high school pushed back to 2023 as seismic upgrades continue

·2 min read
Built in 1914 as Western Canada's first public high school, work is being done to make Victoria High safe for students in the event of a major earthquake.  (Adam van der Zwan/CBC - image credit)
Built in 1914 as Western Canada's first public high school, work is being done to make Victoria High safe for students in the event of a major earthquake. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC - image credit)

Students at Victoria High are going to have to wait until 2023 before they can resume classes at the historic secondary school.

After years of managing aging infrastructure, the century-old school is being seismically upgraded and expanded to accommodate more students.

Construction was originally slated to be complete by September 2022, but according to the school district, the magnitude of the project, and a lack of labourers, have pushed that date back a year.

Jim Soles, associate director of major capital projects at the Greater Victoria School District, told CBC host Gregor Craigie a current labour shortage in the city is partly to blame for the hold up.

According to 2021 statistics from the B.C. Construction Association, 11,331 construction jobs will be unfilled in the province by 2030 due to labour shortages.

"It's been challenging," said Soles. "Our construction managers and our contractors have been scouring the bushes for men, basically."


And it's a big job.

According to Soles, upgrading the building, which was built in 1914, to be able to withstand a massive earthquake is the largest seismic school upgrade undertaken by the province.

It involves reinforcing and supporting decades-old brick and concrete that, in many places, is badly reinforced or has no reinforcement at all.

"We're doing 13 to 15 brand new footings, large footings, 13 or so of them have concrete sheer walls that go all the way to the attic and the purpose of those is to grab on to the floors at each level so that there can't be significant movement in an event," said Soles.


Other upgrades will include improvements to the mechanical systems, the installation of a new fire sprinkler system and new concrete stairwells.

In addition to the seismic work, the school is also being expanded to accommodate 1,000 students, an increase of 200, and that expansion will also include a new neighbourhood learning centre for child-care programs.

The building's heritage elements, such as terracotta, granite and brick masonry on the exterior will be kept, as will marble and art glass features in the main entrance and lobby and painted wood panels and art glass in the auditorium.

The total price tag for the project is $79.7 million, which included renovation costs for the former S.J. Willis Education Centre that once housed district programs and now houses Vic High students while they await their return to the oldest high school in western Canada.

The first Victoria High School was a log building with two classrooms and opened in 1876 on the grounds of what is now Central Junior Secondary. On May 1, 1914, a new Victoria High building opened at its current location on Grant Street.

LISTEN | Jim Soles talks to the CBC's Gregor Craigie about Vic High upgrade delays:

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