The new Alberni District Secondary School on Roger Street is a beehive of activity as workers enter the final phase of construction on the facility. The city’s first new high school since the 1950s is slated to open for classes in September.
Meanwhile across town at the old school on Burde Street, director of career education Brian Laviolette is busy helping prepare for the ADSS Old School Celebration Day, which is being held on Saturday, April 28.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about seeing the old place go because it’s served us well. Sixty-one years is a good run for the old fort,” Laviolette said.
“But at the same time I look forward to getting into the new building.”
The celebration, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is informal. Maps will be provided to attendees and they’re free to tour the school.
A table with memorabilia including school annuals from each decade will be available for perusing, classic cars will be parked outside and food and refreshments will be provided.
There may be music in the auditorium depending on who’s available, and informal basketball scrimmages will be held in the gym, Laviolette said.
“We’re not running a dog and pony show here. It’s going to be a day to come and socialize and share memories,” Laviolette said. “See it all one last time before it’s maybe taken down, depending what happens.”
And people will be able to take a little piece of the school with them. T-shirts marking the occasion are being sold for $5 and orders taken for them if they run out.
But the pièce de résistance is that four-by-four-inch pieces of the old gymnasium floor are being pre-sold for $5 each.
As the building is public property, the initiative needed the blessing of School District 70 trustees. Secretary treasurer Jerry Linning confirmed that the presale was discussed by trustees and given the go-ahead.
April 28 was chosen as the date to celebrate because it’s before grad and before school staff have to start moving out of the old school and into the new digs.
“We won’t have any time to do this in June or after,” Laviolette said.
The event has been gaining momentum, he added. “We’ve been getting calls from all over,” he said. “Mind you, it means a lot to some people but it’s not important to others.”
Laviolette, 58, has amassed a vast archive of memories during his tenure at ADSS.
A then-young Turk of 26, Laviolette got his start at the high school as an intern in 1980.
He returned to ADSS in 1985 after spending time in Australia and at EJ Dunn Middle School, and coached both girls and boys basketball.
“I didn’t just come in knowing what I know, I was mentored,” Laviolette said. “I learned a lot from Jim Mayo, Frank Holmes and others.”
The whole school is cloaked in memories, but Laviolette speaks with a particular reverence for the gymnasium.
The stories are many: like the Totem tournament that had to be moved to the Alberni Athletic Hall one year because of a job action by CUPE.
Teachers break from their routines during the summer but get back to them in late August before classes start. Part of Laviolette’s routine involved getting back to the gym, which he’d be in periodically over the summer months.
“Walking in the gym for the first time after the summers, I even remember the scent it had,” he said.
Laviolette coached the senior boys team with Jim Mayo his first year, and remembers something about every team he’s had. “I remember them by the music they played on the team bus. Every time I hear certain songs I remember which year and what team,” he said.
He speaks most poignantly of when now-Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash played at the ADSS gym in 1992.
The Armada and Saint Michaels University School traded victories and No. 1 and No. 2 rankings throughout the year, and they met for another showdown at Totem.
“It was packed to the rafters and we had to turn away more than 200 people at the door,” Laviolette said.
SMU led by a comfortable margin at the half but the Armada went down fighting, losing the game by only three points.
“It was exciting and I remember it,” Laviolette said. “I think everyone has a memory like that in some way or another.”