An aging high school that opened in 1952 and an elementary school bursting with increased enrolment are key concerns in a five-year capital plan presented to the school board.
The district has earmarked $43 million for replacement of South Kamloops secondary, $9 million for additions to Westmount elementary and a further $1.7 million for renovations to John Peterson campus.
Upgrading and improvements signal a new era for the school district — one based on stable rather than declining enrolment — in sharp contrast to the reconfiguration and widespread school closures of just three years ago.
As well, aging infrastructure can be maintained only so long before it undermines the quality of education.
"I think it's something that has to be done," said Denise Harper, school board chairwoman. "We haven't had a new building since 1999, when we got Pacific Way."
Harper said the district works hard to maintain infrastructure, but South Kamloops is simply too old and should be replaced.
School trustees had a first chance to consider the expenditures Monday night and considerable consultation with the public and the Ministry of Education is needed before the plan can be approved. It may take several more years for the upgrading to be completed, said school superintendent Terry Sullivan.
Sullivan said the district initially considered replacing only South Kam's gymnasium. But looking at renovation costs, replacement made more sense.
A number of other B.C. high schools dating from the same era have been replaced, he noted. The district cannot forestall the inevitable.
"The median age of our buildings is 50 to 60 years, so we really need to begin replacing things," Sullivan said.
The district owns land in Batchelor Heights where it could build a school, but that would siphon enrolment from nearby Westmount elementary. It would make more sense to add classrooms to Westmount than to build a new school a few blocks away, he said.
"It's always a juggling act," Harper said.
Renovations to John Peterson campus are required in order to convert it into a kindergarten to Grade 12 facility for Beattie School of the Arts. Those renovations go hand-in-hand with replacement of South Kam next door.
Once the McGill campus of Beattie is emptied, the district will consider future use of that school.
"We have to look at additions to other schools. This is only the first step," Sullivan said.
Originally known as Kam senior secondary, South Kam has the largest enrolment of any school in the district.
Construction of a new school could be accommodated a couple of ways without moving students elsewhere, Sullivan said. They could build while continuing to operate, but that's disruptive and takes longer, or build a new facility on the playfield and demolish the old school once it is complete.
When the school and auditorium were completed in 1953, many felt that it was too expensive, too extravagant and too far out of town.