Summer saw catch-up on school upkeep work

It’s been a jam-packed but satisfying summer for the maintenance folks at the Cowichan Valley school district.

It’s been a jam-packed but satisfying summer for the maintenance folks at the Cowichan Valley school district.

Summer time is always busy for them because there are many, many jobs that can only be done when the buildings are empty and this year they had the additional burden of picking up all the work that fell by the wayside during the teachers strike of 2014.

Monroe Grobe, the district’s facilities manager, confessed that he’d much rather deal with summers like this one, in which district workers were able to accomplish 175 per cent more work than last summer.

One of the most noticeable jobs has been at Cowichan Secondary.

“We have begun a window reduction and replacement program at Cowichan Secondary. There are lots of people asking about that one,” he said, explaining that it does not mean the district is giving up on getting a new high school.

“We’re not all throwing in the towel; we’ll be continuing to lobby the ministry for a new high school. We have to do something with the facility we have. This should have been done a long time ago but we’ve been hanging onto the hope [that a new school was imminent].”

Replacing the windows offers two benefits: comfort for staff and students as well as energy savings.

“We anticipate that within five years we’ll save the amount that it cost us to do the project.”

A replacement high school wouldn’t happen overnight anyway.

“We know that even if the minister announced a new school tomorrow, there’s a timeline that it would take to complete the new building. We wouldn’t be moving out [of Cowichan Secondary] before five years,” Grobe said.

That’s the big, high-profile job right in the heart of Duncan that everyone can see but there’s lots more that’s been happening around the district.

Another big one is moving the Open Learning Program across Cairnsmore Street into Duncan Elementary.

“That’s a beautiful heritage building so we can’t do anything on the outside but we’ve certainly done some modifications within the building to be ready for that transition.”

The old Duncan Primary building would then be vacant.

The Adult Learning Centre has also moved from the old Charles Hoey School into the MacKirdy building beside Duncan Elementary.

However, the Growing Together Daycare will remain in the portables on the south side of the street.

There had been talk of moving the school board administration to the Duncan Elementary building but that was ruled out as too cost prohibitive about a year ago, Grobe said.

But, huge projects aside, there’s been lots of work going on in various schools.

“We did a washroom renovation upgrade at Alex Aitken. We have installed a walking trail down at Frances Kelsey that basically goes around the whole perimeter of the grounds of the school. Discovery Elementary at Shawnigan Lake has received exterior insulation and cladding and new windows. It was getting a little tired.

“We’ve really taken on a lot of building envelope projects that we’re doing in-house. We started last spring in schools that had surplus space — we call it swing space — so we could move a couple of classrooms out and then pop out the windows. The work involves reducing the number of windows in a classroom, infilling those walls and then replacing the old windows with new ones.”

That started in the spring at Alexander, Tansor, Khowhemun and Alex Aitken and Bench is also on that list.

None of those schools could be called new.

“They needed a little bit of lovin’,” Grobe said.

Palsson Elementary at Lake Cowichan has seen two portables removed and a bit of site upgrading is also scheduled and, with some new provincial money, Palsson could get a facelift similar to that done at Discovery, he said.

“Where we’ve removed the portable out the back of Palsson there is an opportunity to create quite a large play space up off the wet field there. We still have that on our radar, too.”

The district’s schools are older but they are still very functional.

Schools superintendent Rod Allen said at the board of education meeting Sept. 1 that he’s been impressed at the work done over the summer months.

“I did a tour with Monroe on Monday morning to see some of the work here in town and it’s absolutely remarkable, the quality of the work done. I don’t know if you’d have the same perspective as I’d have, from visiting so many schools around the province but while our schools may be old, they’re in great shape,” he said.

He urged trustees to try to find time for a similar tour to see the accomplishments of a busy summer.