Returning students find high school still under construction

Students registering for classes at the rebuilt Great Lakes Secondary arrived to find parts of the school on Murphy Road unready for use, including the music department, auditorium and cafeteria. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

Students returned to classes this week at Great Lakes Secondary but some are disappointed by the school’s still unfinished state.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” 11th grader Summer Kozlof said while registering at the former St. Clair Secondary School last week. “I think they would’ve been done by now if they actually set their priorities straight.”

The older portion of the school has been renovated as part of a $25-million rebuild with new office and student service areas, a learning commons and updated classrooms.

But a new addition featuring an Indigenous Learning Centre, music rooms and 550-seat auditorium remains incomplete and off limits.

The school at 340 Murphy Rd. was supposed to reopen this time last year, initially at a cost of $16 million. But worker shortages, escalating material costs and other construction challenges pushed back the deadline and added millions to the final price tag.

Principal Jim Stewart acknowledged the school is still a work in progress but stressed the end result will be worth it.

He pointed to the many completed classroom improvements including a naturally lit art room and new welding booths in the manufacturing wing.

“There’s lots of really positive things for kids for the learning experience.” he said. “It’s a nice layout. We have equipment from two buildings basically coming together.”

For students settling in this week, the transition shouldn’t be more stressful than moving into a finished school, he said.

However, the cafeteria won’t be ready for another two or three weeks.

“Students should pack a lunch,” he said.

All of the construction should be finished by December, the Lambton Kent District School Board said.

Trustees voted in 2016 to close SCITS and amalgamate it with St. Clair, arguing it was the most cost-effective option. The combined student population has been taking classes at the former SCITS building on Wellington Street while the St. Clair property was redeveloped.

The missed deadlines and delays are frustrating for some.

“(I’m) a little disappointed that it took so long to do this work and really there’s nothing to show for it,” said Erin Delong, who’s daughter Hannah is starting Grade 12 at the new school. “I was expecting a little bit more for the millions put in.”

Hannah Delong, who completed much of high school education at the SCITS building, was hoping to get accustomed to the layout at Great Lakes last week but found two of her classrooms inaccessible due to construction.

Although she’s OK with that, she said, she worries about students just starting out in high school.

Meanwhile, the school board has declared the SCITS building surplus.

New education director John Howitt said the property at 275 Wellington St. will be offered for sale to other public sector institutions, and if there’s no interest, placed on the open market.

The 96-year-old building can still be booked for community events, and the board is responsible for its ongoing maintenance and upkeep, he said.

“It’s still a piece of board property that we maintain, that we’re responsible for mowing the lawn, responsible for the building.”

Centre court with the Wolfpack logo at the newly refurbished Great Lakes Secondary on Murphy road are ready for the opening game tip off.
Troy Shantz.