Interior demonstration of iconic BC high school gets high marks

Crews are completing work on a large and exciting demolition project at the iconic Victoria High School, a landmark in the historic Fernwood neighborhood of Victoria, BC, which is undergoing expansion and reconstruction.

Seismic upgrades are underway at the school, and a two-story expansion is being added to the east side of the structure that will accommodate 200 more students, increasing the school’s capacity to 1,000.

The project also includes new stairwells, upgrades to mechanical systems, a new fire sprinkler system and a neighborhood learning center for community programs.


The school was originally built in 1914, with additions in 1955 and 2011. It is the oldest high school in Western Canada.

The project was split into two distinct parts, the first being the demolition of the interior of the original school and the seismic upgrades. The second is the new addition. The projects are done in parallel.

Demolition work in the original school building was tricky as temporary supports had to be installed. The exterior of the building is left intact and many granite and brick masonry features are preserved. The marble and art glass in the main entrance and lobby, as well as the painted wood panels in the auditorium, are also retained, so crews had to be careful not to damage the elements.

“We’re starting to see some of the rebuilding start to happen and come out of all the demolition and prep work and structural work and we’re getting to a point now where now and in the future we’re going to be on the rebuild,” says Gord Wallace, project manager at the Greater Victoria School District.

“All the rooms inside the old part have all been emptied. All the terracotta tile shafts which were not earthquake stable and the terracotta tile walls have all been demolished and ripped out. work has been done.

The four floors that make up the interior of the original school have been gutted and need to be rebuilt.

Wallace said the demolition work was complicated by the fact that parts of the school were built at different times. For example, in a gym added in the 1950s, there were asbestos abatement issues around the pipes.

At the beginning, it was necessary to do some supporting work. Heavy equipment was brought into small spaces to help build shear walls that are part of a system designed to resist forces such as wind and reduce structural sway. Concrete struts are also connected to the shear walls to reinforce the system. Drag struts are designed to transfer lateral load through the building to the vertical shear walls.


“The underpinning work was quite a challenge because we had this heavy old building and we had to go down about 19 to 20 feet,” says Wallace. “When it comes to building the shear walls, we had to be quite innovative with the installation of the equipment. We were making big holes in the outside wall so we could get the equipment into the basement. We cut through the walls and installed large ventilation systems to be able to dig.

“For the shear walls, we had to go down to the basement and put in footings. The shear walls rise four stories through the building. They did the last pour on these yesterday so they all made it to the top.

The original school’s floor system had old concrete joists with clay tiles in between, so the tiles had to be chipped and filled with concrete.

During this time there were safety issues with an exterior cornice which was installed at the school in 1996. The terracotta was cracking and needed work.

Work on the original building continues with crews carrying out structural work and finishing drag struts in some areas.

“We’re at the stage where we’re starting to get into reconstruction and support systems,” Wallace says. “We had to build a special support system to suspend the mechanical and electrical reconstruction and the floor.”

The renovation and addition was originally scheduled to be completed in September, but the deadline was extended by a year due to the scale of the project and challenges stemming from the pandemic, the school district said. A construction boom in Victoria, as well as pressures on labor and materials due to COVID-19, added to the challenge. Crews also encountered unexpected site and building conditions due to the age of the school which required additional renovations and upgrades, including the installation of supports.

Crews expect to complete construction work by June 2023. Durwest Construction Management is the project general.

The project budget is $79.7 million. More than 100 workers are now on site to carry out the demolition and construction work. The students have been transferred to the SJ Willis Education Center while the project is ongoing.

Wallace says the project has been challenging but interesting as designs are changed as the rebuild progresses.

“I’m a bit older and I’m working on the project with all these quick-witted young people. I keep telling them that once this project is done, they’re going to look back and they’re going to want another project that has the same challenges. They will get bored with a lump sum tender type project.

Betty K. Park