New FH Collins plans on show

Students attending FH Collins in the next two years can expect to spend far more time at the Canada Games Centre. That's because from the spring of 2012 until the autumn of 2013, their school won't have a gymnasium.

Students attending FH Collins in the next two years can expect to spend far more time at the Canada Games Centre.

That’s because from the spring of 2012 until the autumn of 2013, their school won’t have a gymnasium.

This will be one of the bigger nuisances created by plans to demolish Whitehorse’s oldest high school and replace it with a new facility on the same lot, at a cost of $50 million.

The existing gymnasium happens to stand where part of the new school is to be built. So it’s got to go before building starts, in earnest, next spring.

“We realized this would cause an inconvenience during the construction period,” said Gord deBruyn, the Department of Education’s facilities project manager. “But, after quite a bit of soul-searching, we realized this was the best way to go.”

It won’t be the only hassle caused by a major construction project located immediately beside a school with classes in session. The din and racket is bound to disrupt classes at times, although the plan is to have the noisiest work done after school hours, said Kevin Fisher, a project manager with Public Works.

Planning is also underway to try to minimize any safety concerns raised by having approximately 700 students milling around a construction site. New access routes will need to be created, as the existing school’s main entrance will be partly blocked by construction.

These are all puzzles that planners must solve in order to squeeze a new school on to the same lot as the existing one.

Early design plans for the new FH Collins will be on show tomorrow during an open house held by the Department of Education. It’s from 4 to 6 p.m. at the department’s building on Lewes Boulevard.

The new school will either feature a new traffic circle or a set of lights, to reduce the big traffic snarls that currently occur along Lewes Blvd. at the start and end of each school day. Civil engineers are still debating the merits of both choices.

And project managers are still looking at warming the new school with geothermal heat. That decision ought to be made within the next two months, said Fisher.

The new school is expected to be LEED certified – the gold standard for energy efficiency.

The building plans, drawn up by FSC Architects, have the austere, faux-Scandanavian look that’s become popularized in Whitehorse by Kobayashi and Zedda. Bigger windows and a less-sprawling design should ensure the new facility feels less like a dark rabbit warren than the existing school.

One part of the old school to be reused is the shop wing, which will be attached to the new building. A new shop would be “very expensive” and “difficult to absorb in our budget,” said deBruyn.

“There would have been some sort of trade-off, if we had to build it from scratch.”

The shop wing was built in the mid-1970s. But it has recently-replaced air and heating systems. “We expect to get at least another 20 to 40 years out of it,” said deBruyn.

The new school will be smaller than the old one. When FH Collins opened in 1963, it was Whitehorse’s only high school. Now it’s one of three.

It’s currently capable of holding 1,000 students. The new school will be built for 750 students.

The new floor area, including the existing shop, will be 10,500 square metres. That’s down from 12,000 square metres now.

The old school is set to be demolished in the summer of 2014. Before that happens, workers will remove asbestos and other nasty substances from the building, and salvage what they can.

Early sitework will start this summer to install new utility pipes and prepare access routes for construction equipment.

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