École Hammond Bay could see a long-awaited gym expansion. The school district’s business committee recommended Wednesday that the board move ahead with the expansion project of the gym (pictured on the far left). FILE PHOTO

Larger gym could be on the way for École Hammond Bay

Long-awaited expansion project gets support from Nanaimo school district business committee

Students at École Hammond Bay could soon be doing laps at a larger gym, as school trustees agree to move ahead on a long-awaited expansion.

Trustees unanimously made the call to recommend expansion of the French immersion school’s under-sized gym, during a business committee meeting Wednesday. The motion now needs to go to a vote of the school board.

For 25 years there have been requests to grow the gym and it’s been in the capital plan for nearly as long, according to district staff.

Students alone number more than 350 at the school, but the gym, at two-thirds the normal size, has a capacity for 312.

Parents have asked for a larger gym for years, saying the space limits intramural and league sports which impacts school spirit and there are concerns because of an inadequate space for people to meet safely in an emergency.

Jennifer Therriault, chairwoman of École Hammond Bay parent advisory council, told the News Bulletin the school can’t properly use the facility with the number of students it has and has no space for all students and staff to gather comfortably to have assemblies and concerts let alone play intramural sports or have “really good, active PE classes.”

Students, for example, can’t play basketball games against other schools at their gym because it’s not a regulation-sized court, she said.

Therriault was “shocked” and “happy” when she heard about the committee decision, but also cautiously optimistic because with her daughter in Grade 11, she said she’s seen several iterations of boards approving variations of upgrades to Hammond Bay and what sometimes looks like an approval of the gym expansion.

“But this one, actually SD68 put on Facebook “breaking news” and shovels will be in the ground this summer and I thought OK, we’ve never heard that before,” she said, adding it’s made her think there’s something to be hopeful about.

“We are happy to hear that they’re making it a priority and we just need the follow through now.”

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At the committee meeting Superintendent John Blain said the district had proposed a two-phased project to the B.C. Ministry of Education where the district pays to expand the gymnasium and the province pays for additional classrooms at the school. The total project would cost $10.7 million; however, Blain said the ministry has stated it’s not ready to move ahead with its phase.

Blain said with the gym being a No.1 capital project for the board and with $1.5 million in surplus capital identified, staff recommends trustees direct the district to move forward with the expansion project “as quickly as possible.”

The project could begin in the summer.

Trustee Jamie Brennan said people have been waiting a long time and it’s a small gym.

“Kids are embarrassed when other teams come to play in that gym because it’s so small that the volleyballs always hit the ceiling and basketball, they take two steps and they are at the wall – not quite, but almost,” said Brennan, who also noted the structure has been deteriorating over the years. “So this will be well received.”

Steve Rae, committee member and school board chairman, joined the superintendent and secretary-treasurer in presenting the overall plan to the ministry and said the school district will continue to work with the province on Phase 2.

“They’ve been receptive to our plan, they liked our business case, but we are going to move ahead with this with our money and we’re going to do this on our own. This will act as our down payment for Phase 2,” he said. “We have open dialogue with the ministry and we are continuing to look forward to pushing them to write us a cheque for the remainder of this.

“But this is something we should be very proud of in this room. As trustee Brennan said, this has been a long time and let’s get this thing started.”

The business committee applauded after its unanimous support for the motion to recommend the school board move forward with plans to complete the new gym at Hammond Bay as a first phase.

-with files from Greg Sakaki and Karl Yu


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