It’s new. It’s spacious. And it’s ready for use as soon as pandemic restrictions are lifted.
The long-awaited, $10.1-million auditorium with seating for 586 at Great Lakes Secondary School is finally complete.
The Lambton Kent District School Board took possession from the contractor during the April school break, just before students were sent home to work remotely, said Brian McKay, the board’s business superintendent.
But it was a momentous occasion nevertheless, in no small part because it’s nearly three years late.
“We are very happy it’s finished,” said McKay. “We have a wonderful, professional space that was designed and built for the benefit of our students and staff, but will be available to the entire community too.”
The Great Lakes Auditorium is an addition on the south end of the school and features its own entrance, front lobby, washrooms, coat check, 2,828-square-foot stage, control room, change room, lighting and sound system.
“When I walk into the space and look around, I’m proud that we can do this for our students,” said McKay. “It’s a cool place that can accommodate a full-scale theatrical production or large concert band.
“It was built to professional specs.”
Also in the addition are theatre arts classroom space, two music rooms, accessible washrooms, and an Indigenous classroom with its own air system to allow smudging ceremonies.
The school board pledged to build an auditorium when it decided to close SCITS in 2016. SCITS on Wellington Street was the city’s oldest school and housed a well-used, 850-seat stage at the centre of its theatre arts program.
In closing SCITS, the board opted to renovate the former St. Clair Secondary School on Murphy Road and rename it Great Lakes Secondary.
But an ambitious plan to overhaul almost every corner of the 1960s-era school ran into roadblocks and delays. The project jumped from early estimates of $16 million to the final cost of $24.5, which includes the new $10.1-million auditorium.
Delays were blamed on material shortages, labour shortages and finally, the pandemic. Last year, the board cut ties with the original contractor and hired Forest-based Wellington Builders Inc. to finish the job.
“Wellington Builders got us to the finish line,” said McKay. “They’ve done a fantastic job.”
Moving the lighting and sound equipment from SCITS into the new auditorium was considered, but mixing the old and new was problematic, said McKay.
None of the distinctive wall décor from SCITS moved over either. Instead, Great Lakes students will work with staff to “make this their own space,” he said.
The design allows the auditorium to be isolated from the school and rented for community use.
Rental pricing has yet to be decided but McKay said community groups are already making inquiries.