Unfinished. Unsafe. Unwelcoming.
That’s how one senior described her first semester at the still-under-construction Great Lakes Secondary School in Sarnia.
The school opened on Murphy Road last September, one full year behind schedule, after the contractor repeatedly missed deadlines on the $25.2-million renovation.
Now, five months later, a 550-seat auditorium, two music rooms and an Indigenous studies centre are still unfinished while students encounter workers in hallways on ladders.
What’s more, the roof is leaking. Rain and melting snow have entered the school and pooled in light fixtures and stained freshly installed ceiling tiles, several of which collapsed this past semester.
“I along with my classmates wish they would have let us be, and given our younger peers the homecoming they deserved when the school was actually ready,” the Grade 12 student said on condition of anonymity.
“No construction, no unfinished halls, no sketchy workers walking around. Great Lakes isn’t what it deserves to be. Great Lakes deserves a home, not a construction zone.”
One day, the student said, her friend was startled when a male construction worker walked into a women’s washroom. The incident was not reported.
Trustees with the Lambton Kent District School Board voted in May of 2016 to close SCITS and amalgamate its students with St. Clair Secondary to create Great Lakes. Trustees said closing SCITS would give students a better education at less costs.
The combined students took classes at the SCITS building on Wellington Street while the St. Clair property was redeveloped.
In August of 2017, the school board hired Concord-based Jasper Construction Corp. to handle the redevelopment at a cost of $23.4 million. That was about $5 million more than originally estimated.
Last September, a year later than expected, teaching staff and the nearly 1,000 students moved in. The lunchroom and some classrooms were closed off and unusable, and the auditorium, music rooms and Indigenous centre were a construction zone.
Business superintendent Brian McKay said the school board has given Jasper a new deadline of Feb. 23 to complete the unfinished rooms, and to March 23 to complete the auditorium.
The March auditorium deadline is one month before students are to stage The Revue, an annual music and talent show with a century-old tradition from SCITS.
“There have been dates in the past that have not been met,” McKay said. “We’re hoping that we’ll be able to get in, and these dates will be met.”
He confirmed students are encountering workers in the halls during school hours, doing work unrelated to the new addition, which involves another contractor.
He was unaware of a worker entering a women’s washroom. If reported, that would have been investigated, he said.
Asked why the school still isn’t finished, McKay cited scheduling conflicts for drywall and millwork contractors, but didn’t elaborate.
“Specifically, you’d have to talk to the contractor about any difficulties they’re getting,” he said.
A representative at Jasper Construction told The Journal last week it would not provide an interview.
“We don’t deal with the media,” she said.
The company is no stranger to controversy. Taxpayers in Aurora, Ont. are on the hook for $600,000 to rebuild a community skatepark, a Jasper project that presented problems less than a year after completion.
And Jasper was awarded the contract to build a new police headquarters in Guelph, Ont. in 2016, a delayed $34-million project that is still not complete.
Sarnia and Point Edward school trustee Jack Fletcher called the Great Lakes situation “frustrating.”
“I don’t think any of us are happy about the way it’s going,” he said. “Obviously, we hoped the students would be in the (completed) school by now.”
McKay confirmed the roof is leaking. Rainwater damaged some light fixtures and ceiling tiles, and several tiles had collapsed.
Plans for a new roof are underway and construction could begin as early as this summer, said McKay.
He acknowledged receiving complaints from parents about the school’s condition this past semester, but added the wait will be worth it.
“When we get to the finish line and we get occupancy of those rooms and the auditorium, I think it’s going to be just a fantastic area for our students,” he said.
“We’re excited about what’s going to be turned over to us.”