At the start of each school year, students and teachers return to campus to find a number of facilities – classrooms and common spaces – have been renovated, upgraded and renewed over the summer break. This year was no different but for the first time in 14 years, we also proudly opened the doors to a brand-new building: the Sun Centre.
On Tuesday (September 4), more than 400 members of the community joined our new Head of School Mr. Mark Turner for the grand opening of the new building, which houses a majestic new dining hall, a large student common area, as well as our Personal Counselling and University Counselling departments and boarding services. Funded by the generous donations of our community and named for the major donor, Cliff Sun ’72, the Sun Centre is a demonstration of the importance of philanthropy at our school – without which these facilities could not exist.
In a speech to the crowd from the second-storey balcony, Mr. Turner called the new building “iconic.”
“I chose the word ‘iconic’ for this building very carefully because if you go to the dictionary the word ‘iconic’ means that something will become symbolic. I think that this building is already well on the way to being extremely symbolic for SMUS,” he said. “I think it’s symbolic of the strength of our community. This is a place where our students and faculty will be sharing food together. The sharing of food and hospitality over millennia has been the way that different civilizations have reached out to their friends.”
Closely aligned with community, Mr. Turner added that the Sun Centre will “be a symbol of the connection between our day students and our boarding students.”
On the main floor of the Sun Centre, located between Schaffter Hall music building, the Christine Duke Theatre and the Science Block, you’ll find the student commons area. Furnished with a wide variety of seating – couches, chairs, benches – and tables, there’s ample space for students to socialize during their downtime. Also located in the student commons is The Howard Café. Just outside of the bustling common area is where you’ll find the private offices for our Personal and University Counsellors.
On the south side of the building, adorned with beautiful stained glass, is a wide and long staircase that leads to the new dining hall. Inside, a high ceiling, large windows that bring in natural light and a floor-to-ceiling fireplace welcome the SMUS community. Gone are the long benches of Brown Hall, replaced with individual wooden chairs and tables that allow the space to be more flexible. A state-of-the-art kitchen for our Sodexo staff will help make cooking for (and cleaning up after) hundreds of people much easier.
After Mr. Turner completed his speech from the balcony, Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell was joined by Deputy Head of School Andy Rodford, Head Girl Morgan Warner, Head Boy Ewan Halliday and Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen for the ribbon cutting.
Two Decades In The Making
The need for a new dining hall and student commons was identified nearly two decades ago. Former Head of School Bob Snowden, upon arriving in 1995, was tasked with undertaking a campus facilities master plan, during which the need was highlighted.
“There were three very clear priorities in the original master plan. In no particular order, the first was seismic upgrading to buildings that needed it. The second priority, was teaching spaces for humanities and the arts. And then the third priority was facilities that were going to serve boarders well. Under that heading was things like athletic facilities that could be used by boarders – and a dining hall and student centre were high on the list,” Bob says.
Before the School House upgrades began in the mid-2000s, Brown Hall was slated to be refurbished and a new student commons was set to be built below the existing dining hall and Tuck Shop. But as the school population increased, Bob and architect Paul Merrick, who led the Master Plan, realized that the existing dining hall, which originally opened in the 1957-58 school year, couldn’t accommodate a growing school.
Over the last 16 years, SMUS has completed seismic upgrades, built new teaching spaces for humanities and the arts, and updated athletic and boarding facilities – what was left on that original master plan list was building a dining hall and student centre.
“If you look at the way the buildings are now organized, there is, you could say, a village street that runs from the residences all the way to the door of Monkman Athletic Complex. That will become the main walkway, the main street that is the village of our school,” Bob says. “The buildings that were in the Merrick master plan were very deliberately designed with that in mind and to propose that we put the Sun Centre where it is in order to complete that village street feel.”
“I feel the school has given me a golden opportunity”
A few weeks ago, a private ceremony was held in the new dining hall to thank some of the SMUS families who helped make the building possible, including some donors and benefactors who financially supported the construction and furnishing. In attendance for this event was alumnus Mr. Cliff Sun ’72 and his family, a major donor and the namesake for the building.
“I feel the school has given me a golden opportunity. A lot of my current achievements and accomplishments are because of the opportunities I was able to grasp while at St. Michaels University School,” Cliff says. “I owe it to the school for giving me such an opportunity to learn. I’m a good man, I’m a kind-hearted person myself. That kind-heartedness comes through various influences, including SMUS.”
Cliff says he is pleased that his donation helped spark the construction of a building that focuses on building community, as some of his fondest memories from his time at SMUS involved the friendships he built with his classmates.
“The students’ time in the school is something they will always remember and treasure and I hope the student commons will be something they really feel good about it. When I was a student, the student commons was just a room with couches and one TV,” he recalls. “Now students have a nice, usable area where they will build up strong school ties and connections with each other for years to come.”