More than a school, it’s the heart of the community

It may be an unexpected extension to their summer vacation, but it’s unlikely to be a welcome one for most of the students at South Okanagan Senior Secondary.

It may be an unexpected extension to their summer vacation, but it’s unlikely to be a welcome one for most of the students at South Okanagan Senior Secondary.

The fire that burnt down the school did more than close it for the foreseeable future. This was more than the loss of an educational institution for the Oliver and the South Okanagan; it was the loss of a longtime heart of the community, a repository of shared memories and an outstanding example of a unique architectural style.

The community’s love for the building is easily demonstrated. In recent years, Oliver held two plebiscites: one was over borrowing to build a new pool and the other was whether the community should borrow to invest in renovations to the aging Frank Venables Auditorium at the school.

The pool was defeated soundly. But the community was clear in its support for rebuilding the auditorium, which has now been heavily damaged by the fire. The renovations, which included major upgrades to the school, were about midway through, due to be completed in 2013.

Now that the fire is out, the community and the school district have some tough questions to answer. There are purely operational ones, like where the students will be going to school. But as the bulldozers come out to clear away the rubble, the questions about rebuilding have to be asked.

Should the school be rebuilt? How will students be accommodated during the years it will take? Should it be rebuilt in the same art moderne style of the original, or should they go for something easier to build?

Can the school be rebuilt? Yes and no. Yes, a building can be built there. No, it will never be the same as the old school; the physical memories tied up in the building are gone. The final answer lies in the community’s response to whatever building replaces the old; whether they choose to embrace it and make it as much a part of the community life and history the old building was.