NORTH VANCOUVER—A 58-year-old high school with 150 more students than it was built to accommodate is about to get a massive upgrade.
St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School will be torn down and replaced with brand-new classrooms as early as September 2019.
“It’s a 58-year-old building, and it’s time,” said principal John Campbell. STA did meet the building codes of its day, but when the archdiocese commissioned a massive study of all churches and schools in 2012, it was among many buildings found seismically unsafe.
Campbell said they decided to rebuild the school for $26 million rather than reinforce it.
“We felt the money was better spent rebuilding.” A seismic upgrade without a rebuild would cost the school an estimated $10 million, but “we’d still be stuck with the old building from 1959.” It would still leave students and teachers with outdated technology and inefficient heating and cooling systems.
“I’m very excited,” said Campbell. “We’re just in the beginning stages. We haven’t dug a hole yet; we’ll probably do that within a few months.”
The STA campus is currently a set of disconnected buildings, including classrooms built in the 1950s, an old Sisters of the Child Jesus convent given to the school in 2000 and declared a heritage building, and a science wing added in 2004.
Catholic schools superintendent Dan Moric is excited to see the school connected as “one seamless campus” with the convent chapel as its heart.
“It’s a beautiful building that has a gorgeous chapel as its centrepiece,” said Moric. “It looks like something from the Sound of Music.”
The convent, where some music and drama classes are currently taught, will be renovated during school upgrade and become the central place of worship and the fine arts wing. “The idea is to build the school around that and make that the functional centre,” he said.
STA will be rebuilt in three phases. The first phase will see a rebuild of the gym, classrooms, and offices. That will be followed by a renovation of the convent, then the third phase: tearing down the old school and replacing it with a sports field and a track, something the current school simply doesn’t have. The relatively new science wing will stay put.
“It’s long overdue,” said Moric. “STA is probably comfortably built for about 450 students and they are somewhere around the 600 mark right now.”
Mike Donelson, CISVA director of finance and administration, called STA a “patchwork” of buildings. The rebuild will “create an integrated, cohesive school” with enough space for all of its students.
“Let’s face it, the buildings are kind of worn out and were built for what was needed 55 plus years ago,” he said. “When it’s finished, it will simply be a better facility.”
A shovel may go in the ground as early as next month.