It’s been two years since the new $58 million Alberni District Secondary School broke ground on Roger Street and the final project is finally done.
There’s still some work to finish but on Sept. 10 staff and an estimated 1,100 students will pour through the doors of the new 12,150-square-metre school for their first day of classes.
And teachers — all of them grinning at their new surroundings the day the News toured — have been organizing their classrooms, putting their special touch on them. The day will be as big for them as it will be for students, ADSS principal Mike Ruttan said.
“They’ve all been blown away after coming into the school. It’s got a completely different feel to it than the old one,” Ruttan said. “Teachers say that it’s logical, spacious, high and that the amount of light changes their moods.”
New school means new infrastructure, which will take time to get used to, Ruttan said. “Yes we have a new building but now we have to make the phones, computers, SMART boards, the PA system all work,” he said. “They’re very sophisticated and until we use them we don’t know what they’re capable of.”
Students’ grades and attendance may see a jump this year as a result of the new building, he said.
Students have been filing in and out of the new school to see their counsellors about timetables for the upcoming term and to get a peek at their new digs.
This is year one of firsts at ADSS: the first class of Grade 12s to graduate from the new facility; as well as for the first class of Grade 9s who will spend four years there.
Grade 12 student Rhea Lauzon lists physics and chemistry as her favourite courses, and she hopes to study computer sciences at BCIT after she graduates. Lauzon is one of a group of students who helped others schedule appointments to see counsellors at the new school in the week preceding the first day.
She watched with anticipation as the new school took shape from bare ground. “I wondered if it would be finished on time for our graduating class and it was, so I was happy about that,” Lauzon said.
Lauzon, had a sneak peek at the new school two weeks before opening day as part of her job. “We were told that it was small but it’s actually quite big. It feels modern and is definitely a step up from the old school,” she said.
“I’m lucky though. I already know my way around.”
Lauzon’s favourite parts of the new school are the round skylight in the centre of the building and the second floor classroom facing 10th Avenue and Roger Street.
“I like the colour, the glass and the amount of light.”
Lauzon says as a Grade 12 student she doesn’t feel cheated out of having only one year at the school. “I kind of wish I was in Grade 9 again so I could have all those years ahead of me here,” Lauzon said. “But our graduating class is giving the school a name so we should really make the most out of this one year.”
Grade 9 student Brett Watts is one of those lucky Grade 9 students who has the next four years ahead of him at a new school.
Watts, 14, got an advance look inside the school and was taken aback on the tour. “It’s like playing a video game out for the first time, experiencing all the different parts of it,” Watts said. “Our upgrade will be when we move up to Grade 10. This is going to be fun.”
Watts visited the old high school a few times and never liked it, he said. “It had a rundown feel to it. The configuration was like a maze inside. A bunch of squares connected by rectangles with twists and turns,” Watts said. “The new school is more logically built and you can find your way around easier.”
Standing five-foot-eight, Watts is as tall as big kids but says he’ll still be a bit nervous about going to high school. “It’s kind of like when you’re in Grade 1 and you have all these big Grade 4s teasing you because you’re in Grade 1,” Watts said.
The fact that it’s a new school takes the edge off the apprehension, Watts says.
“I’m nervous that I’m starting at a new school but I’m not nervous because it is a new school,” the former AW Neill student said. “I don’t know if that makes sense but it’s how I feel.”
Students will be streaming in and out of the school, which is all but completed. The playing field, half gym and atrium flooring will be finished at month’s end, School District 70 Secretary Treasurer Jerry Linning said. And the theatre will be finished in November.
Construction won’t affect study time. “Any area that needs work which is occupied by students will be done on weekends or in the afternoon,” Linning said.
As well, not having the theatre until late fall won’t affect assemblies, which will be held in the gym, Linning said.
Being the principal at the new high school is the culmination of Ruttan’s 37 years in the education field.
This is year zero, a new start at a new high school and it won’t happen again, Ruttan said.
“We’ve got just one chance to get this right and we can’t afford to lose it.
“I’m not saying we can’t change. But to get this kind of opportunity so dramatically comes once.”