Grade 9 and 10 students at the new Belmont secondary traverse the hallways on various levels Tuesday on opening day. They were joined by those in Grade 11 and 12 on Wednesday. While the full complement of learners have arrived

Sparkling new West Shore high schools greet students

Some elements still under construction at Belmont secondary, but new era underway

The Bulldogs have marked their new territory and the Ravens have entered the nest for the first time.

The new Belmont and Royal Bay schools were filled with fresh-faced students this week eager to see inside the walls. With their doors opening for the first time on Tuesday for students in grades 9 and 10 and on Wednesday for the addition of older grades, there was no shortage of amazement on the faces of all.

On a tour of the new schools on Tuesday, the differences between them were apparent but both were special in their own way. Belmont has more of a retro vibe, with many items such as desks and chairs recycled from the old school. A prominent wood theme is strung through its halls and runs all the way to the school’s gymnasium, which is the largest on Vancouver Island.

Claire Church, 17, looks forward to the opportunity to spend her senior year playing basketball in that new gym. “It doesn’t even feel like a school,” she said, adding it felt more like a recreation centre.

She admitted it was “kind of emotional saying goodbye to the old school,” but she is excited to start setting new milestones in the new school. “The fresh start to my ending,” as she called it.

Other Belmont students were quick to note how open and airy the new space felt compared to the old school.

While students are happy to be in the new space, the space isn’t quite ready for them. Some cosmetic finishes, which were not expected to be completed by the first day of classes, were missing from the school.

Yet to be installed inside the front entrance is a touch screen display that will showcase past Belmont graduating classes. Superintendent Jim Cambridge said “the alumni association has put a lot of effort into having a connection with the old school.” Displays at the main entrance will also showcase the Douglas Treaty and feature aboriginal artwork.

Beside the front entrance a noticeable portion of the school was still closed to occupation. Cambridge said he expected to receive a progress report on this section of the school by the end of the week but it was not scheduled to be completed until the end of the month. He said once crews had finished construction inspections would still have to be done before it could officially be opened.

This section of the school houses the shops, band room, art room, choir room, dance studio and drama space. As previously reported, the District did not expect these spaces to be operational during the first week of classes and made alternative arrangements.

Cambridge said any delays in construction would result in “no additional costs to us, that’s the builder’s responsibility.”

“Belmont is a replacement school,” he said, unlike Royal Bay. The funding expectation for Belmont was that 75 per cent of the equipment would come from the old school. But he said they had kept that in mind when purchasing new equipment over the past few years.

While many items in the school have been recycled, it still gleams new. “I’m still struck by them every time I walk in,” said Cambridge of both schools.

Royal Bay has more of a futuristic feel, with bathrooms that look like they were plucked from a designer airport. It is equipped with large glass garage doors that can be opened to the outside to create a breeze way and while closed they still create the illusion of an open space.

Students flocked to this space with eyes wide and jaws dropped on Tuesday. The view of the sun peeking through clouds over the bay also attracted a few stares through floor to ceiling windows.

Lara Hamburg, 17, played in a band welcoming students to the school on Tuesday. She was excited to spend her Grade 12 year taking advantage of the new facilities Royal Bay had to offer. Fellow Grade 12 Katie Rufh thought the new school would make students excited to get out of bed in the morning.

During a tour of those new facilities, including an industrial kitchen stocked with over a million dollars worth of equipment, school board trustees were just as wide-eyed with excitement as the students.

Ravi Parmar, school board trustee, said “the moment when we walk in to see the reactions…their faces just light up our world.”

Royal Bay, while also still waiting on some cosmetic touches and landscaping, felt a little more complete than Belmont during those tours. Some areas of the school, like its 350-seat theatre are still in the works, but the theatre is expected to be completed in two weeks.

Wendy Hobbs, SD62 board chair, said it took more than 15 years of hard work to get to this point and had “been a complete community effort.”

“I think a lot of our kids have migrated home,” she said, explaining that a number of students who have ventured out of district looking for specialized programs will  likely return because of the new facilities and programs the two schools offer students.

She said besides the new facilities it was also a major change for staff, many of whom had been working together at the old Belmont school for a number of years.

“We’ve divided up,” she said, adding teachers were still very excited to begin working in their new spaces. “It’s going to be such a different school year,” she said.

But still looking to the future, Hobbs said the District is “still looking for more facilities” to meet growing needs.

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