Principal Rick Jones (right) is excited for the first day of school next week where the new Chilliwack secondary will be revealed to its students. Pictured: above is the school's courtyard; below

New era for Chilliwack Secondary school

The sparkling new Chilliwack Secondary school is finally ready to open its doors to students on Tuesday.

Chilliwack Secondary students will file into a modern new space come Tuesday as the district finishes up construction on the school building.

The new and much improved CSS, about double the size of the old building, will open up to the community as never before. In addition to the many rentable spaces, the facility will house a wealth of community services as well as the Fraser Valley Distance Education school.

“The face of the community is about to change,” said principal Rick Jones. “This learning institution, when all its parts are running in a few months — the learning centre, the turf field — it’s going to have more opportunities for young people than anything I know of.”

Jones guided members of the media on a sneak peak tour on Tuesday.

The main school doors open to a large hall facing floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of mountains.

New gym, with school trustee Heather MaahsIn one corner is the new home of the Chilliwack Storm, a professional gym that Jones expects will draw athletic students to the school. There’s a second, smaller gym, as well as a fully equipped fitness centre.

The artificial turf field is scheduled to be completed by spring 2014, and will be used by students and the city alike. The new tennis courts will be lit and also available for the community.

Another corner off the main hall leads to a large industrial kitchen that is a prime teaching facility. It connects to an open space in front of the glass wall where foldable tables signal a cafeteria. There’s also a Murphy fold-up stage for students to hold concerts during lunch breaks.

A new addition is the 22-station hairdressing salon. CSS still needs to gather the industry and community connections, as well as recruit teachers and students, before the program’s anticipated opening in 2014. But when in place, the hairdressing program will be yet another way for students to develop career skills in high school.

“We are optimistic of having a program that will actually ready students for the workplace and put them well on their way to a Red Seal hairdressing certificate,” said Jones.

The salon is nearby to a spacious black box theatre room that can seat 250 between the retractable bleachers and the floor. It connects to the TV studio that will serve as the green room.

At regular spots in the 20,200 square metre building are gathering spaces with moveable cube chairs to encourage the 1,050 students to take a seat and work together.

“We really pushed kids to be able to gather,” said Jones.

Even the new metal lockers greeting CSS students have a special history: they were used by Olympic athletes in Whistler.

Upstairs is the open library, with workstations and sofas dominating the centre.

The new library, with principal Rick JonesAlthough the view from the library’s wall of glass will eventually be of the surrounding hills, right now students can witness the demolition of the old school building. Jones expects the structure to be dismantled within a week. Clearing the enormous piles of rubble may take longer.

Unique to the high school is the collection of community services that will eventually take up permanent residence in the Neighbourhood Learning Centre wing of the school. This includes the YMCA, Chilliwack Community Services, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

“It’s leased space, but having them in the building is something we’re looking forward to,” said Jones.

It’s part of a government initiative to tie public schools closer to the community, explained school board trustee Heather Maahs, who joined the tour on Tuesday.

“Part of the philosophy is all about making better use of the schools, because they just sit, especially during the summer, when they should be used by the community,” said Maahs.

A steady stream of community members will flow through the building during all hours. They’ll come for the social services, or to use a computer lab, or to hold events in the new cedar-pannelled aboriginal gathering centre. They will rent the gymnasiums, turf field, and tennis courts.

“I think there’s some people optimistic out there that (the new school) might be a contributor to revitalization of this side of town, with the Paramount Theatre down now. So your bookends now are the new courthouse and the new Chilliwack Secondary,” said Jones. “There’s a lot of people hoping that it might be the start of something in downtown Chilliwack.”

The Fraser Valley Distance Education school, a public K-12 school for 3,000 students completing requirements online or by correspondence, will also have its permanent home in a CSS wing.

About 200 people will end up working at the CSS building by January.

Chilliwack Secondary will have none of the structural problems of the last building. Its LEED Gold status means its much more energy efficient, as heat pumps and displacement ventilation minimize wasted heating.

And the technology upgrades promise to change the nature of classrooms as overhead projectors and document cameras expand teaching innovation.

To help students, staff, and the community navigate the enormous new building, there will be two touchscreen way finders from October, where people touch a diagram of the school to figure out how to get to where they want to go.

“I cannot wait until Tuesday morning when we open the doors and see the reactions of the kids,” said Jones.

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