The future of education in the Cowichan Valley is brighter with the announcement the new Cowichan Secondary School will be ready for students by the 2023 school year.

Education Minister Rob Fleming made the announcement on Wednesday that the new $82.1-million dollar school will provide 1,100 spaces for students, addressing the increased enrollment, a reality that has faced the School District for quite some time.

School District 79 Board Chair Candace Spilsbury said the portables that are being used throughout the district won’t be required.

“The school will be built for 1,100 students and at the current numbers, we have 900 students listed, so that gives us an increased number,” said Spilsbury. “The minister promised that at the new school site we will not have any education in portables.”

Spilsbury said, based on need, the portables may be moved from site to site as enrollment increases in one area and decreases in others.

The existing school was opened in 1950 and Fleming said a replacement is key because the conditions of the school are deteriorating quickly.

“Of the five blocks of the school there are several additions there, several are unusable today because of the poor condition, that’s why you have portables on site,” said Fleming.

He added, “Some of them were in such poor shape; unreinforced breeze block, this kind of stuff, really what became the better investment, even though it’s more expensive upfront was replacing the school entirely. It’s certainly a lot cheaper in the long run.”

Initially, there were three options; a full replacement, repairs and seismic upgrades, or partial replacement and seismic upgrades.

Spilsbury said this announcement is a long time coming and a crucial upgrade.

“This is an amazing day for the Cowichan Valley community because our Cowichan Secondary School is the largest school in our school district and we have waited a long time for this to happen and we are thrilled,” said Spilsbury.

Safety was the primary concern in the province choosing the full replacement of the local high school.

“We live in a significant seismic area, we’re expecting a large earthquake, we have to be prepared for that, so it’s really about having a safe facility that’s built to the latest federal building code that necessitates this investment,” said Fleming.

“Having said that, it’s a great opportunity to refresh schools that are very dated and in the heart of Duncan, this is going to be a significant institution for young people and the entire community,” said Fleming.

There will also be a Neighbourhood Learning Centre that will be accessible to the community after hours and on weekends.

It will also offer families on waitlists’ with childcare services.

The $82.1 million dollar project will be broken down as follows:

The province is responsible for $79.9 million dollars that will be taken out of its $2.7 billion dollar budget.

School District 79 is paying $2.2 million and that money will come from the sale of dormant properties and other funding sources.

The school will be located on the Cowichan Place property next to Vancouver Island University’s Cowichan campus and Fleming said there are a few schools that are closely connected to post-secondary institutions, but not right beside each other.

North Island College is located close to a high school in Campbell River and
Kamloops has strong trades training connected to Thompson-Rivers University.