Port Alberni’s two high schools are a stark contrast to one another on a warm Monday afternoon.
A long row of cars lines the outside of the new school on Roger Street as more than 100 workers race to finish the school’s inside and outside.
Several of the workers are Port Alberni residents, some of whom graduated from Alberni District Secondary School within the last three years.
Classrooms in one wing at the new school have freshly waxed floors and are now filled with desks. Equipment is slowly being moved into the metal, wood and auto shops as well.
Rooms in a second wing are still being worked on and should be ready to be moved into shortly.
Across town on Burde Street, an eerie quiet—different from other summer holidays—hangs over the old high school.
The school has the feel of a mausoleum. Even the smell is different, old wood having been exposed when parts of the school were taken apart.
Most classrooms are empty, boxes and chairs clutter the halls and the gym has become the de fac0 to clearing house for desks and tables to be moved to the new school.
“We’re on schedule for September. It’s going to be tight but it’s supposed to be,” said ADSS vice-principal Ron Behnke.
Actual moving of material from the old to the new school started on June 18 after school let out for exams.
Inside the nearly finished academic wing of the new high school, a shower of light illuminates the bright walls of the paper-lined hallways. Student lockers line the main hall, each half the size of the old ones and stacked one on top of the other. “They’re smaller than the old ones but are wider,” Behnke said.
Teachers sorted, boxed and tagged goods to be moved in their classrooms before departing for the summer.
Planning for the move started more than a year ago with departmental inventory assessments. “There was over 50 years worth of stuff that had accumulated that had to be sorted through,” Behnke said. “Teachers and administrators inherited stuff from teachers and administrators who had inherited it from…”
Nothing significant was unearthed and there were no valuable finds during the sorting. There was however one discovery of note. “We found a chalkboard with writing still on it when we took down the whiteboards,” Behnke said. “My first thought was ‘I wonder how old the writing is,’” he said.
Moving meetings are held every morning and lists are produced of goods ready to be moved to the new high school.
The goods are loaded onto a pallet and hoisted by crane through holes that were cut in the wall at the side of the old high school.
Desks are taken to the old ADSS gym where they are sorted, cleaned and given a new top if need be. More than 800 desks have to be moved to the new school, Behnke said.
Books are being catalogued, boxed and moved from the book room at the library. “I don’t want to guess at how many. Let’s not go there,” Behnke chortled.
Material is being moved first into the upper floors then into the lower floors, Behnke said. “Basically we’re pulling out in the order that the new school is finished,” he said.
Teachers’ classrooms have already been assigned, their names affixed to the doors. The rooms are brightly lit with natural light from Roger Street. The floors have a certain feel to them as you walk, denoting their newness, and the room smells not unlike a new car.
The walls are barren and waiting to be filled. “There’s whiteboards and other things still to come,” Behnke said. “The rooms just need that teacher’s personal touch.”
Teachers will be at the school sometime in August to start organizing, he added.
Classrooms are occupied in a hodgepodge fashion but there is a method to the madness, Behnke said. “We move classes over as they are ready to be moved into at the new school, but that doesn’t mean they move in exact order.”
Behnke is the coordinator of the big move and oversees a staff of more than 40. He got the nod, he says, because of his experience with moving logistics at AW Neill Middle School when it underwent renovations nearly a decade ago.
The initiative is a delicate balancing act. “We don’t want too much stuff arriving all at once when it’s not ready to be received yet,” Behnke said.“
The shop equipment was a challenge to move because it had to be unplugged, disengaged, cleaned of grease and oil, Behnke said.
“Then there was the sheer weight of the equipment, which hadn’t been touched since it was all moved into the old school.”
The next phase of the move is scheduled to start this week, School District 70 secretary-treasurer Jerry Linning said. “The office complex and music room will start on Friday. The gyms, library and theatre are going to be ready soon as well.”
The admin offices will be moved last from the old school in mid-August once the phones, computer hookup and other electrical equipment are ready for them on Roger Street.
Work on the back field starts on Wednesday and landscaping on the eastern front of the school will start soon as well, Linning said.
“We haven’t wound down yet. There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Linning said. “But the last wave of occupancy should be starting soon.”
◆ STUDENTS START the school year by seeing their counsellors at the new high school from Aug. 27-29.
◆ AN ORIENTATION schedule for students is as follows: Sept. 6 for Grade 10 in the morning, and Grade 11 in the afternoon; Sept. 7 for Grade 9 in the morning, Grade 10 in the afternoon.
◆ THE FIRST full day of classes will be Sept. 10.