It’s a school like no other.
This year, after nearly five years of planning, Chilliwack school district finally opened the doors to the new Chilliwack secondary school.
The wait was well worth it, said school principal Rick Jones.
“Clearly there’s just a different vibe in this building than the old one,” said Jones earlier this month.
If you didn’t live in Chilliwack and were to drive by the new building, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking it was a college campus… or maybe, even something space age.
The modern, three-story facility is twice the size of the old building. It has a professional gym, an industrial teaching kitchen, gallery wall mounts for student art, and a murphy bed stage in the cafeteria that’s used, on average, every two weeks for lunch-time concerts. There’s floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto a mountainous view, breakout spaces with bistro tables and chairs, and a park-like setting outside with picnic tables surrounded by classic Chilliwack greenery and a Seawall-like trail for both walkers and cyclists.
The interior, so large, it requires directional cues by way of East and West posters tacked to the wood-slat walls.
The school’s WayFinder system was also turned on for the first time last week. A three-dimensional, interactive mapping touchscreen that helps direct students, staff and community to their desired locations.
“To me, [this facility] has much more of a college campus feel than a high school,” said Jones.
“You don’t need to go to a Starbucks to sit in a bistro chair and be comfortable – the kids just generally feel more comfortable in this building. We don’t have nearly the number of students leaving at break.”
As is shown by cafeteria sales tripling since moving in to the new building.
“The kids are still riding the high, and so is staff,” said Jones.
Still, the old school memories are not forgotten.
In March, a Hello-Goodbye Reunion was held for CSS alumni going back to 1950. More than 5,000 former staff and students toured the old building, poring over yearbooks and grad class photos.
Many of the photos taken from those yearbooks and the walls of the old school are now showcased in a mural that takes up the entire wall of the new school’s Alumni Hall. Three touchscreens also feature the alumni grad class photos.
“As far as I know, we’re the first school to do this,” said Jones, a 1970 CSS graduate. “And already, I’ve had a number of inquiries from other new schools wanting to see what we’ve done.”
In addition to Chilliwack secondary, Fraser Valley Distance Education is also facilitated in the new building. (FVDES moved in last week.) As well, several community groups including Ministry of Children and Family, Xyolhemeylh, Elder’s College, United Way, and YMCA have taken up home there.
“We are anticipating in time this building will go seven days a week, 12 hours a day,” said Jones.
The only thing now needing to be complete is the 150-stall parking lot that, due to inclement weather, was about 10 days behind schedule. The lot and bus loop at the south end of the school is expected to be ready for use by the second week of January.
The official grand-opening of the new school is Feb. 28.