A groundbreaking ceremony on July 22 begin the construction phase for the new Alberni District Secondary School.
After years of planning and long debate over the location of the new high school, a small delegation of staff from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC), School District #70 officials, politicians and high school students joined together in the official groundbreaking ceremony July 22 marking the start of construction.
The $5.8 million project, funded by the BC government, is scheduled for an early 2012 completion. Located across the street from Bob Daily Stadium on a former ball field, the new school will share the neighborhood with the Multiplex and North Island College.
Simon Read, Lynette Lucas and Eileen Haggard were on hand at the groundbreaking ceremony, representing NTC. According to Read, NTC contributed somewhat to the design of the new school. He said there will be First Nations design components that will connect it with the heritage of Alberni Valley.
Students who just finished Grade 9 attended the ceremony. If construction stays on schedule, they will be the first graduating class of the new Alberni District Secondary School (ADSS).
School District #70 Board Chair Larry Ransom welcomed people to the ceremony. He introduced planning partners, including representatives from the City of Port Alberni, NTC, the Government of British Columbia and many other agencies.
He reported that the Nuu-chah-nulth conducted a traditional cleansing ceremony at the site earlier that morning. Tufts of eagle down could still be seen wafting up from the ground. NTC Elementary/Secondary School Supervisor Eileen Haggard explained that the purpose of the cleansing ceremony was to open the school property up to goodness for all that enter.
NTC Education Manager Lynette Lucas said she, herself, is an ADSS graduate and expects her daughter to do the same. She said education is always at the forefront at the NTC, adding they want to ensure quality education is available to all.
“We’re proud to have something like this. Thank you to the Ministry of Education,” said Port Alberni Mayor Ken McRae.
“Thank you for taking this dream and making it a reality,” said Nathan Read. He, along with four other students, was there to represent the future.
Greg Smyth, Assistant Superintendant for SD #70 recalled that only six or seven years before they expected the old ADSS would merely get a seismic upgrade. He was happy to hear news about the brand new school. “What a wonderful complement to the surrounding area. What a wonderful site, in the heart of our community,” he said.
Ransom thanked the BC Ministry of Education for supporting the project, then introduced Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid, BC Minister of Education.
MacDiarmid acknowledged the years of planning and dozens of hurdles jumped in order to get to the groundbreaking. It’s probably bittersweet when you think of the old and the new, she remarked.
She noted the new facility was just a school but an integral part of the neighborhood. Besides classrooms and typical high school facilities, the new building will boast unique features such as a community theatre, a first nations gathering place, a youth health clinic and two gymnasiums.
“This new state-of-the-art Alberni school will be seismically sound, environmentally friendly and energy-efficient and, as a Neighbourhood Learning Centre, will integrate the delivery of educational programs with a broad range of social and community programs,” she said.
Because the new school will deliver programs and services to the wider community, it will be open beyond normal school hours.
“Port Alberni has such a wonderful sense of community service,” said MacDiarmid. “You’re really famous for caring for each other and working together. We will make this school a success,” she declared.
The $58 million Alberni District Secondary School and Neighbourhood Learning Centre will be built to LEED Gold environmental standards which will include ground source heating. The energy efficient design features are expected to save the district 60 per cent of their annual operating costs.
The school will have a capacity of 1,000 students and is expected to open in 2012, at which time the old school on Burde Street will be demolished.
By Denise Titian