Southern Okanagan Secondary School


Oliver, B.C.


11,100 square metres



Structural Engineer

CWMM Consulting Engineers Ltd.

General Contractor

Greyback Construction

Engineered Wood Fabricator

Mercer Mass Timber LLC

Project Materials

Glue-laminated timber (Glulam)



Structural Systems

Hybrid / Other

Low rise

Post + beam


Mass timber rotunda physical and social heart of the school

Wood is the focal point of the Southern Okanagan Secondary School multi-purpose room, rebuilt after a devastating fire in 2011.

  • A primary post-and-beam structure allows for maximum flexibility, enabling non-loadbearing partitions to be reconfigured.
  • Six turned Douglas fir glue-laminated (glulam) columns rise from concrete bases in the multi-purpose room to support a hexagonal arrangement of glulam roof beams.
  • Glulam post-and-beam construction continues throughout the school, with a simpler rectilinear geometry.

Designed for maximum flexibility

In 2011, a fire destroyed the much-beloved art deco–style Frank Venables Theatre and the attached Southern Okanagan Secondary School, which was originally constructed in 1949 and was undergoing a major renovation at the time. School District No. 53—which serves the southern Okanagan and Similkameen regions of the province—joined forces with the broader school community to rebuild the facility, which was unveiled three years later.

The school is designed for maximum flexibility, with a primary post and beam structure enabling non-loadbearing partitions to be reconfigured should the requirements of the program change. Both the gymnasium and science ‘super-lab’ can be subdivided for multiple simultaneous use, while large and small meeting rooms suitable for groups of various sizes are dispersed throughout the building.

The classroom block and library were reconstructed, a new theatre built and a neighbourhood learning centre added. The plan is centred on an open-ended, south-facing courtyard, and is anchored at one end by the theatre and at the other by the neighbourhood learning centre.

A multi-purpose room, located in the middle of the central wing, is the physical and social heart of the school. The building’s circular rotunda sits ceremoniously on a gentle grassy hill, conveying a proud vernacular in the face of the disaster overcome by the community.

Glulam structure of turned posts, diagonal branches and hexagonal arrangement of roof beams

Wood is used throughout the building, most impressively in the double-height multi-purpose room. Here, an elegant glue-laminated timber (glulam) structure—comprising turned posts, diagonal branches, and a hexagonal arrangement of roof beams—is the commanding focal point of the space. Along the corridors, and in some high-impact spaces such as the science labs and gymnasium, birch plywood panelling is used on the walls as a hard-wearing yet aesthetically pleasing finish.