Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook.

SD5 to look at future of Mount Baker Secondary School

Board of Education approves funding for study of MBSS replacement or major renovations

The Southeast Kootenay School District is looking the future of Mount Baker Secondary School.

The board of education passed a motion to conduct a study analyzing the options of a complete or partial replacement of the school or major renovations to the existing building.

The Mount Baker Secondary School building is over 70 years old and has been a district priority for many years, in terms of addressing issues with facilities and the learning spaces, according to Chris Johns, a Cranbrook-based SD5 board trustee.

“We’ve had to pour millions of dollars now into keeping that building operating,” said Johns, “and we’ve taken a look at that and we’re prepared to put an argument forward to the ministry and to our architect and say, ‘Look, are we getting our best bang for the buck here when we’re continuing to be putting in these kinds of monies or should we be looking at moving in a new direction?’”

A full replacement is expected to come with a price tag north of $70 million. That option comes with further challenges, including preserving or recreating valuable features already in place at the existing site, such as the Key City Theatre or Aboriginal learning spaces that are unique to MBSS.

“We want to have a very comprehensive review involving all of the staff at the school, teaching and non-teaching staff, to come up with ideas as to what they want to see in a new building,” said Johns. “We have a unique situation there with our aboriginal education and learning centre area, and that is one that we’ve been petitioning the ministry to include in it’s area standards.

“A new school doesn’t have the aboriginal component in it and we definitely do not want to lose that, so we’ve been actively as a district canvassing for that.”

If a full replacement ever occurred, the soccer field would likely be used as the new school site, as the existing school maintained operations during construction. Once the replacement school is completed, the existing school footprint would be replaced with a field and parking.

A partial replacement of the existing building would also address some issues with the current facilities, Johns added.

“The partial replacement might be doing things like…we don’t have, for example, a cafeteria, we don’t have a lunchroom for the kids,” Johns said. “The kids are eating their lunches in the hallways or across the street at Safeway, and so the partial replacement might be able to deal with some of our classroom size issues that we need to have more varied learning spaces to reflect the 21 century learning and those options are not really available in a building that, this April, will be 70 years old.

“We’re talking about an old-style building and it’s got it’s interesting quirky features and some things that are really desirable, but other things, with our new focus on individualized learning, it does create some serious drawbacks.”

A series of major renovations may also be a more palatable option, with the ability to stagger work over a number of years for cost and budgeting reasons.

“The major renovations would be targeting particular areas of the building and over a period of years,” said Johns, “I’m talking a series of phases, they would be able to do that with minimal disruption to the learning situation in the building and it probably would have a more desirable price tag to it.”

Berry Architecture and Associates will be conducting the study, which will be submitted to the district and used to make representations to government officials and ministries.

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