In the throes of discussions around its future, 103-year-old Victoria High School has been placed on the nation’s Top 10 Endangered Places List by the National Trust for Canada.
Recent Greater Victoria School District committee recommendations suggested two options for seismically upgrading the four-storey brick section of the building, neither of which involve demolition and construction of a new main section of the school.
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Victoria Coun. Pamela Madoff, a champion for built heritage on council over the years and someone well-versed in the requirements and challenges of restoring such structures, called the announcement a “good news, bad news” situation.
The fact its future existence is considered to be endangered is not good news, she said, but on the other hand, the importance of saving the old part of the school “is being recognized on a national scale on a list where they only [identify] 10 buildings in a year.”
“There was no lobbying for it either, [the National Trust] became aware of it through the media,” she said.
On this year's Top #10endangered Places List: Victoria High School. Seismic upgrades threaten the oldest high school in Victoria. Learn more: https://t.co/SkrVtl4FsU @timescolonist @HeritageBCanada @VictoriaNews #yyj #victoria #heritage pic.twitter.com/CWRYAx3cxh
— National Trust for Canada (@nationaltrustca) May 23, 2018
With the SD61 trustees due to discuss the preferred options for Vic High at their Monday night meeting next week (May 28, 7 p.m.), Madoff hopes that the unanimous recommendation from the committee “will carry the day.”
Should trustees vote to pursue either of the seismic upgrade options, the City of Victoria has expertise it can lend in the area of heritage restorations, she said.
“There’s a whole body of work that we would be willing to share with them,” she said, pointing to the restoration and redevelopment of similarly-sized St. Ann’s Academy in the 1990s as a good example. “It was a complete restoration of the exterior, but there were also a number of restorations of the interior elements. It would be good if some of the character-defining elements of the interior [of Vic High] could be retained as well as the exterior.”
While the cost of doing seismic upgrades to the existing building has been estimated to cost significantly more than a teardown and rebuild – over $100 million compared to $50-60 million – restoring the 1914 building would send a signal to current and future generations that recycling and reusing is the way to go, Madoff said.
Vic High joined such other historic structures on the National Trust list as an old blacksmith shop in Edmonton, a former residential school in Saskatchewan, Montreal’s defunct Royal Victoria Hospital and a series of covered bridges in New Brunswick.