Some 950 students are expected to register this week for classes at Great Lakes Secondary School (GLSS), but construction of their new building appears far from finished.
It’s been more than two years since the Lambton Kent District School Board (LKDSB) decided to close SCITS and consolidate with St. Clair Secondary students at a redeveloped site known as Great Lakes Secondary School at the former St. Clair site on Murphy Road.
Major construction began last fall at the 1960’s-era building, with board officials projecting the new school would be ready for September.
But in June, the contractor announced it wouldn’t be finished in time. In fact, delays caused by a scarcity of skilled trades have dogged the project from the beginning, with no new completion date announced.
That means that on Tuesday, Great Lakes students hit the books in the former SCITS building again without knowing when they might move.
Construction appears to have moved slowly over the summer despite mostly good weather. The addition of a 550-seat theatre on the south side of the building is still steel supports and concrete walls.
Renovation updates won’t be known for several weeks when the contractor, Concord, Ont.-based Jasper Construction, informs school board officials.
“We anticipate more information in early September,” said Gary Girardi, superintendent of capital planning and accommodations, adding that the board sometimes allows a move into a new building if only part of the project is complete.
“If the classrooms are ready but not the other part of the project, it’s an option that we have taken in the past.”
He would not speculate on whether a move is possible after the first semester or might be put off until September 2019.
“We have to wait to meet with Jasper and talk about their progress,” he said.
Board officials thought the theatre would have a roof and be closed in by now, conceded Brian McKay, superintendent of business.
“However, there’s a lot going on at the job site. It’s very active,” he said. “Our biggest issue this fall could be the weather. Fingers crossed.”
In 2016, when school board trustees voted in favour of closing SCITS – a 96-year-old building with deep connections to the community – the cost to redevelop the former St. Clair building was estimated at $16 million.
That’s increased to $25.2 million, covered in part by a $10.3 million capital grant from the former Liberal government.
LKDSB trustees voted 9-2 to close SCITS. The two who didn’t support the closure were Elizabeth Hudie, who is not running for re-election, and First Nation trustee Lareina Rising who is an appointee.
Jane Bryce, who was board chair at the time, has been acclaimed for the next term. Those who supported the closure of SCITS and are running for re-election on the Oct. 22 ballot are Scott McKinlay, Dave Douglas, Shannon Sasseville, Jack Fletcher, Randy Campbell and Ruth Ann Dodman.
Bryce attended SCITS as did her mother and sister, and says she understands the community’s affection for the building but strongly believes the board has made the right decision despite escalating costs and delayed timelines. The permanent site for GLSS is also a better site for future expansion, Bryce said.
“Sarnia deserves to have a really good high school,” she said. “It was the right decision. We had to downsize and this will put us in a good position for the next 50 years. SCITS is a lovely old building, but it’s old.”