Catholic board says Sarnia high school expansion to start any day

An artist rendering of the new St. Patrick's High School on the St. Christopher site.

An artist rendering of the new St. Patrick’s High School on the St. Christopher site.

Work on the expansion of St. Christopher Secondary School in Sarnia is expected to start any day.

The St. Clair District Catholic School Board has awarded a $14 million renovation and expansion plan to Wellington Builders of Forest after receiving verbal approval from the Ministry of Education for the project. Construction is expected to begin as soon as possible according to the director of education.

It’s been a long road to get to the construction which will lead to the amalgamation of St. Patrick’s High School on East Street and the new St. Christopher on the Rapids Parkway. The board approved the consolidation of the school in 2009 and had hoped to have the two student bodies in one building – renamed St. Patrick’s High School – by now.

But Paul Wubben says the board was well into its planning when it realized that with the extent of work that needed to be done, there were going to be safety issues. “With the renovations we were undertaking, we needed to increase the size of the cafeteria, because we would have twice as many kids,” says the director. “It became increasingly apparent we weren’t going to be able to do that with the kids there.”

So the board decided the St. Chris students would move to St. Pat’s for one year while the construction was underway. While the move was controversial, Wubben says most people understood the board’s safety concerns. “To simply tack on an addition to the school would be a waste of the taxpayers money…You’ve got one chance to do this right.”

Five companies bid for the project but the board choose Wellington Builders of Forest – the company which built St. Christopher’s. It took the Ministry of Education six weeks to give the St. Clair board verbal approval for the project.

Wubben says there was some concern the board was using revenue from the sale of a former board office to fund the project. The St. Clair board has put up $2.6 million of its own money from the sales of former schools and yearly renovation budgets to pay for the addition.

When it approved the Wellington tender, the board also promised not to look for more funding from the province in the future to renovate the administration building in Wallaceburg.

Wubban is eager to get the physical work started. “The intent is to try to get the shovel in the ground as soon as possible,” he says. The contractor will be on site building the foundations this spring while the students are in school. In June, teachers will have to pack up their classrooms to be moved to St. Pat’s for the 2013-2014 school year. “The logistics of that will have to be worked out,” says Wubben.

Wubben says it is expected the new, merged St. Patrick’s on the St. Christopher site should be ready for students by the 2014-2015 school year.

– Heather Wright