Crews are putting the finishing touches on seismic upgrades at Dunsmuir middle school in Colwood. But once students return to their regular classrooms, portables will still dot the school’s landscape, as it continues to house more students.
“We’re experiencing exponential growth across the district,” said Sooke School District superintendent Jim Cambridge, adding Dunsmuir alone has grown by roughly 40 students since June and about 70 from the numbers seen in September 2015.
Combined, SD62’s four middle schools have grown by roughly 170 students this school year.
As of Oct. 5, the district had almost 9,500 students enrolled in the district’s K to 12 program, an increase of 520 students over last year. Cambridge said those number doesn’t reflect the growth the district has seen this year in its distributed and alternative learning programs.
“It’s challenging to make sure we have space,” he said, noting the district was still able to accommodate all of the new students who enrolled this school year.
In hopes of alleviating some of that pressure over the course of the next five years, the District recently submitted its capital plan to the Ministry of Education. These plans are submitted by school boards across the province and include details on building priorities in their district.
The province will establish an overall capital budget for schools based on the Ministry’s capital allocations and each request is analyzed according to specific criteria. Resources are then allocated to the highest-priority projects.
The Sooke School District is requesting funding for three new elementary schools in Langford, a new middle school to service the West Shore portion of the District, and funding to build the addition to Royal Bay secondary in Colwood.
Those elementary schools are tentatively aimed for south Langford, the Westhills area and north Langford in the Millstream Road/Skirt Mountain area. Cambridge noted development in those areas is creating the demand for more schools.
Aware the Ministry must consider requests from every school district in the province, and the fact the Sooke district is not far removed from receiving funding to build Royal Bay and Belmont secondaries, Cambridge isn’t banking on receiving all they asked for.
“The decision is the Ministry of Education’s. If it was Sooke’s, we’d be doing it right now,” he said, adding SD62 should know the result some time after Christmas.
That means at least some of the portables will become a more permanent fixture at Dunsmuir middle school. “For the time being, until we get a new middle school built,” Cambridge said.
At the height of the seismic upgrade work, 13 portables and a washroom were located at the rear of the grounds, accommodating nearly 400 students. With the school operating at close to capacity, a handful will remain to accommodate more students.
“The majority of the upgrades happened in the centre of the school,” explained professional engineer Alex Samousevitch, SD62’s construction supervisor, which is why a number of classes had to relocate to portables.
He clarified that the work was “not an expansion, it’s an upgrade.” The project was made even more difficult, he added, with an increase of almost 100 students since crews began in May of last year. “That was a bit of a challenge.”
With the upgrade essentially complete, Samousevitch said crews are now working on “minor reinstallation of user requirements … We’re working on aesthetics.” That includes rehanging some doors and reconnecting equipment such as projectors in classrooms.
As for what crews have been working on for the past year and a half, that’s a little harder to see.
“In essence, the seismic upgrade is invisible,” he said. “they cut strips out (of the walls) and they put rebar in and filled it with concrete.” A fresh coat of paint basically hides all of that work.
More difficult to hide is the new roof on the school. It was upgraded with a new diaphragm along with other roofing materials, “so it would essentially be more rigid during a seismic event,” Samousevitch said.
Taking advantage of favourable weather during spring break this year, crews were able to get a lot of work done on the roof.
During the summer break the focus was on getting high traffic areas finished before students returned in September.
“We were under budget and ahead of schedule by approximately four months,” Samousevitch said. “Most of that is thanks to Kinetic Construction … They pushed hard.” He added it was a real team effort to get the project to this point and thanked their various partners.
The district also took advantage of the construction to make other safety-related upgrades, he said. “The whole school is now protected by a fire suppression system.” The school’s fire detection system was also brought up to current construction codes.
Some upgrades provided more ascetically pleasing finishes for students and staff. Some of the interior walls on the school’s ground floor were removed and were replaced by support columns.
This created an open space for students that now features ping pong tables and other amenities.
It’s also close to the new entrance and lounge area that was created for students that take the bus. By creating a bus loop along the side of the school, some of the congestion was alleviated at the front of the school.
“The space functions really well,” Samousevitch added.