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Matthew Hoekstra, Staff Reporter

Merging two established identities will be one of the hardest tasks in amalgamating Steveston and Charles E. London secondary schools, Richmond officials say.

“It seems like the simplest task, but I think that’s going to be one of the hardest tasks—coming up with that name that’s respectful and melding the traditions,” said Jim McLeod, principal of London secondary.

Architect Larry McFarland unveiled details and sketch plans of the $9-million project at Monday’s school board meeting.

The plan calls for a 5,000-square-metre addition to London secondary—a 50 per cent expansion—which the district says should be completed by the end of 2006.

Construction is expected to start next fall. In September 2007, Steveston high school students are expected to join London students at the expanded and renovated 15,000-square-metre campus.

The school, expected to house 1,300 to 1,500 students, will feature new drama and science rooms, a library, parking lot, performing arts theatre, an additional gymnasium and fish hatchery.

Both schools have seen declining enrolments in recent years. London secondary currently has 857 students, while Steveston has 770.

McLeod said staff at both schools have been working together and meetings have been staged for parents and students.

He said his staff is looking forward to a new building, which will offer new opportunities for students, but he said deciding on a school name, sports team moniker and school colours will be a challenge considering the history of both schools.

Finding a way to honour both institutions in the expanded building will be important, said McLeod, who suggested the school might need to take on a completely new name.

“I have to think that after a couple years once kids have been here for five years, they are going to see this school as a new identity.”

McLeod started his teaching career at Steveston. His current school was originally an elementary school before it was redeveloped as a junior high school in 1975. It became a full high school eight years ago.

Steveston’s principal, Jim Allison, also has history with both schools. He and four siblings graduated from Steveston. He then taught at London, before recently landing the top job back at his old high school.

Allison said his staff is excited about moving into a renovated and expanded building with new facilities for students, but he said there is also trepidation in leaving a 50-year-old school behind.

“There’s two cultures coming together and two ways of doing things. So that uncertainty causes anxiety with some folks—both staff and students—and particularly with Steveston alumni.”

He said there will be growing pains, but added countless successful mergers occur in the business world.

School board chair Linda McPhail said both schools have their own unique histories, but thinks the architect has done well in bringing both together in the project’s design.

“I was very impressed,” she said. “It’s been a very difficult process. Of course each school has their own identity and their own things they are proud of.”

She said there are no plans on the future of the Steveston high building, saying it could be used for continuing education classes.

“There are many things that it still could be used for, but it wasn’t worth it to replace it as a building or even to have an addition.”

A public meeting is being planned for Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. at London Secondary School to provide the community with an update on the project.

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