Stepping through the doors of Chilliwack’s newest high school, students could already be seen gathering on the curved-shaped couches in the foyer the week before school was set to begin.
They’re some of the 60 leadership students helping out at their new school, Imagine High Integrated Arts and Technology secondary. And they’re just as stoked for the school year to begin as staff are.
“I can’t even breathe, it’s so exciting,” said principal Brooke Haller on Thursday, Sept. 2, five days before the first day of school. “We had parents and kids that walked in here and looked around and cried because they’re so excited.”
The school is located at the former campus of University of the Fraser Valley North, on Yale Road. The site was ideal for converting to a secondary school, as it already has classrooms and an auditorium. The building was renovated to align with secondary-school programming with an arts and technology focus, including music, a recording studio, dance and art studios, a high-end theatre, culinary arts spaces and a new gymnasium.
It’s one of 16 new or improved schools to open in B.C. this September.
“Opening new schools is an exciting way to start the school year, and I’m pleased to see students getting an arts and technology-focused education that will prepare them for post-secondary and career opportunities,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education.
Construction began on Imagine High in March 2020 and it took crews a little more than a year to complete the school.
They “moved mountains” to have the school completed on time, Haller said. “You see it take shape, but then in the last three weeks it becomes this whole new space. It’s just beautiful.”
The province provided $25.4 million in funding for the school, including $15.4 million for the expansion project and $10 million for the land purchase.
Imagine High is one of four current major capital projects in the Chilliwack School District. The others are: Stitó:s Lá:lém Totí:lt elementary middle school (estimated project value $53.6 million), G.W. Graham upgrade ($23.90 million) and Vedder elementary upgrade ($12.34 million).
“This investment demonstrates our government’s forward-looking approach to supporting students, families and communities,” said Dan Coulter, MLA for Chilliwack. “An arts and technology-focused education is a great foundation for students to thrive and innovate in B.C.’s economy.”
Enrolment for the Grade 9s happened “quite fast,” Haller added. Registration opened on Nov. 16, 2020 and by Christmas nearly all the Grade 9 spots were filled by teens from across the whole district.
About 250 students in Grades 9 and 10 have enrolled for the 2021/22 school year.
The school will not have students in all four high school grades (Grades 9 to 12) until its third year. Next year, the school will go from Grade 9 to 11, and by September 2023 all four grades will attend Imagine High with a capacity of 700 students.
“What’s cool is these kids didn’t know each other. They met each other yesterday because everybody’s brand new,” Haller said. “It’s this instant feel of kindness and belonging. It warms your heart.”
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