Home Artists Victoria art school gets eviction notice to make way for high schoolers

Victoria art school gets eviction notice to make way for high schoolers

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A post-secondary Victoria art school is being evicted by its landowner, the Greater Victoria School District, from a building it’s called home for 14 years.

Since 2004, the Vancouver Island School of Art has leased an old elementary school from the school district. However, due to swelling enrolment, the district says it now needs the space for students.

The district’s secretary-treasurer, Mark Walsh, says changes to B.C.’s class composition sizes, as well as population migration to the Island from Alberta and the Lower Mainland, have pushed enrolment well above previous projections.

“Most of our sites are starting to fill up,” said Walsh. “Central Middle School actually is full, and we need to find a way to make sure we can fit all the kids in this area.”

For now, that means increasing capacities at other schools like Lansdowne Middle School — which is just down the road from the Vancouver Island School of Art, also known as the Quadra street building.

“[The Quadra street building is] well-maintained and it’s not that far separated from the main school building,” said Walsh. “It’s pretty perfect for a pod of middle school students, and they would have easy access to their colleagues as well as amenities to the school.”

Walsh said discussions of re-purposing the art school began a year ago, and its managers had been notified.

They now have until Aug. 31 to vacate the building.

Known as the Quadra street building, the Greater Victoria School District has given the art school until Aug. 31 to vacate.(Vancouver Island School of Art)

‘We were really shocked’

Wendy Welch, the school’s executive director, admits they were warned. But she thought the school would be spared.

“We were really shocked,” said Welch. “Last year, they talked about needing more space, but I thought [given] our presence in the community, we would be able to work something out.”

Welch said the building has a comforting atmosphere and benefited from great lighting and large windows.

Now, the team is looking to find another home for the school and its 2,000 regular students. She said there’s been an outpouring of support from the community.

Even Realtors have offered to help the school find a new space at below market value, she said.

“I know people are really sad, but they’re really becoming a part of the charge to see what can be done, because they really believe in it.”

Welch has her sights set on a 2,000 square foot space and isn’t ruling out setting up in a strip mall. But she says the team wants to keep the school in the Victoria-area, so it will continue to be accessible to the bulk of its students.

“The biggest thing for me is street presence. The reason I started this place in 2004 is because I wanted to make a place where everyone can study art,” she said.

With the deadline looming, however, Welch isn’t too stressed out. After all, art can thrive just about anywhere.

“I’m confident we’ll find a space,” she said. “Worst case scenario, we’ll teach in parks.”

With files from CBC’s On the Island and All Points West