The joke floating around the semi-built Belmont secondary last year was that their new building was like an advent calendar. Every day there would be a new addition to the school; a freshly replaced ceiling tile here, a new whiteboard there.
The only difference was that advent calendars are typically complete by Christmas, while the finishing touches – mostly exterior work such as the playing field behind the building – are still being put on Belmont.
But you won’t hear principal Ray Miller complaining, nor his staff or students. In what was clearly a challenging year, Miller was quick to express how impressed he was with the way they handled the entire situation.
“There was huge potential for it to be a negative year. I’m amazed at the resilience [of everyone],” he said, beaming with pride.
The lead-up to the start of the school year was much less chaotic this time around. It was Sept. 3 of last year when teachers were given their first look at the new school, and the introduction to their new workplace was anything but conventional.
“The site was still a full construction site and they had to be sworn in as construction workers to be Work BC compliant,” Miller said.
When teachers arrived at their classrooms, he said, they were greeted with a pile of desks and chairs in the middle of the room, along with whatever items they had requested to be brought over from the old building.
“It was a disaster.”
While most of the school was able to open on time last year, plenty of work remained for construction crews. As Miller noted, there is a big difference between occupancy and completion.
One wing of the building, housing many of the school’s specialty classrooms such as its music room, dance studio and shop classes, wasn’t ready until November. In an act of improvisation that would have made Charlie Parker proud, Miller and his staff arranged to have those classes taught in alternate rooms that are to be occupied by other tenants going forward, such as Camosun College and Island Health.
“We just used whatever space we could find,” he recalled.
Through all of those growing pains and an admittedly trying year, Miller remains grateful for the work put in by Yellow Ridge construction, commending them for addressing the concerns and issues forwarded to them since the school’s opening.
And there’s no denying that the construction of the school was worth the wait. A massive gym, a state of the art theatre and a large, bright learning commons are just a few of the amenities for students in a school that’s already earning recognition. The school’s design recently won the People’s Choice Award and an Award of Distinction at the Pacific Northwest Education Conference in Alaska.
With the school just about complete, Miller said he and his staff are looking forward to a “normal” year. In fact, he made that the theme of his opening address to teachers last week. “It’s an amazing building … it’s actually a great place to learn and a great place to work.”