School district considers demolishing B.C.'s oldest high school

The Greater Victoria School District has laid out three options for seismic upgrades to Victoria High School. Building an entirely new facility is the cheapest option.

Greater Victoria School District weighing three options for seismic upgrades to Vic High

Victoria High School opened in 1914 and has the highest ranking for seismic risk. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

The Greater Victoria School District is considering tearing down the oldest high school in the province — commonly referred to as Vic High — as it weighs its options for seismic upgrades for the school. 

According to a news release issued Thursday, tearing down the school and building a new facility is the cheapest option.

The vice chair of the Greater Victoria School District, Tom Ferris, says the district now wants to hear from the community. 

"The board is anticipating a lot of interest because it's a big community project," Ferris said.

"I think it's something which influences a lot of people over the long run. A lot of students, but also [the] neighbourhood and many, many issues."

The school district has laid out three options with three price tags for seismic upgrades:  

  • A new building: $50-60 million range.
  • Seismic with upgraded building systems: $60-70 million range.
  • Retain the exterior and rebuild interior: $100-110 million range.

Vic High has the highest ranking of seismic risk, with a prediction of widespread damage or structural failure in the event of an earthquake.

Building a new facility is not only the cheapest option, but according to the news release, it would increase the capacity of the school from 850 students to 1,000.

There will be two public meetings in April for the community to share feedback on the seismic upgrade project. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Ferris emphasizes that the safety of students is the priority for the project, but he recognizes the heritage value of the building. 

"It's a school that's sent many, many students to fight in the First World War and the Second World War," Ferris said. 

"It's a school that has a classic facade and one which is very pleasing to look at. However there are many considerations." 

Reacting to the announcement of the three options for the seismic upgrades, Victoria city Councillor Pam Madoff said she is not convinced that building a new facility is the best option. 

"From an architectural point of view alone it's an extraordinary building in terms of its design," Madoff said.

"But if you also attach the importance of the role that is has played in the city, you know it's our only high school."

Madoff also said that the impact on the environment needs to be considered. 

"The best thing you can do, the most responsible thing you can do, the greenest building you can create, is the retention and rehabilitation of an existing building," Madoff said.

"I mean, could you imagine sending that to landfill?"

Madoff also has concerns about how the three options will be explained to the public.  

"I'm just worried that the way it is going to be presented is going to skew it in such a way, where some people could come to the conclusion, in terms of safety and quality of education, the way to go is a new school. 

"And I just absolutely don't buy that." 

The public can share feedback on the project at two open houses in April or through an online survey that will also launch next month.