School bounces back after fire

When Marcus Toneatto took over as the principal at Southern Okanagan Secondary School this month, he inherited a set of challenges different from what most new administrators face.

His office is housed in a portable, the  school’s  480 students attend classes in other portables spread across the Oliver campus and much of the property is under construction.

Toneatto, who brings a wealth of teaching and administrative experience to the school, takes it all in stride as he and others see light at the end of the tunnel.

“The plan is all the portables will be gone by summer, and we are slated to have the keys to the new school by July, 2013,” he said.

Students, teachers and administrators have studied and worked in temporary quarters since a fire in  September, 2011 destroyed much of the school along with the  historic auditorium.

At the time the school was undergoing a $29 million renovation, further complicating the situation

Toneatto, who moved from Similkameen Elementary Secondary School, where former SOSS principal Cate Turner is now working, admits it has been hard for staff and students.

But January is a good time to arrive and plan for the school year ahead, he said.

There is an air of excitement with the present situation soon ending and construction on the new school expected to be completed in fall of 2013.

“It was pretty terrible when the fire happened because the school was a real historical part of Oliver. Many people had attended the school , so there were a lot of emotional ties,” he said. “But the new facility will possibly be the nicest in the Okanagan as a school.”

Currently on campus are the portables and two pre-existing buildings housing the music/drama room and computer lab and art room.

A third new building, which received some water and smoke damage in the fire but was saved by a fire wall, contains a state-of-the-art gym, science lab and atrium.

While the portables will go, those buildings will remain.

The new school containing the classrooms, library and office space is 50 percent done, and students will be able to move in, in September, 2013.

The Neighbourhoods of Learning is 40 percent done and will open the same time. The auditorium is 25 percent complete and expected to open December, 2013.

Mitch Van Aller, director of facilities for School District 53, said the construction work is going well .

“We are feeling good about the status of the project at this time,” he said.

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