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New date set for school move-in

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Following a few delays, a new move-in date for students attending the new St. Mary School in Fort Frances has been locked in.

At the Northwest Catholic District School Board's monthly meeting last Tuesday, it was announced that students and staff would be making the move to the new facility over the Christmas break.

Superintendent of Business Seija Van Haesendonck noted that construction delays and available days to make the move meant that Christmas was the best remaining—and most timely—option.

“Currently with the information we have from the architect who's been working with our general contractor Finnway to get specific information, substantial completion . . . won't be any earlier than Oct. 31,” she said.

"Because these are based on best-case scenarios, we've had a lot of internal discussions about what a reasonable move-in date to schedule is. We want to provide a date to our staff, our school community, our families that is going to be a reasonable date that we can confirm and make sure that we meet this time.

“The other factor we've been considering is that our previous move-in dates all revolved around weekends where there was going to be a PD day on the Monday so that we could start the move from the two schools on the Friday,” she continued.

“We no longer have a weekend in the next few months where we're going to have a PD day on the Monday. The last PD day before Christmas is our faith day in November and it falls on a Friday, so it's not conducive to a school move to do that.”

The decision to make the move to the new St. Mary School over the break allows for two weeks to complete the process, including the set up of the new spaces. Van Haesendonck said they will be hiring a moving company to assist in the process and the school would then be ready for students for the first school day of the new year—Jan. 6, 2020.

Van Haesendonck also noted that trying to force the school move-in to any of the time remaining before the holiday break was unfair to staff and students.

“It's also quite a stressful time in schools, just before Christmas,” she said.

“Putting that on staff to have to pack and unpack right before the advent season didn't seem very fair to those staff members who would have to manage the excitement of all the students, of the move, transportation changes. So that's where we've landed, is making the move over the Christmas holidays.”

However, the building won't be sitting idle until the new year, as the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (RRDSSAB) is also involved with the new consolidated school.

“The childcare is of course a partner of the building,” Van Haesendonck explained.

“The Rainy River DSSAB will be leasing the childcare that's being built as part of the building, and they are in need of opening their space as soon as it's available, so it's likely that once the school comes to substantial completion, and the childcare is able to complete their licensing that has to be done, that they will move in sooner than we will.”

Concerns addressed

Meanwhile, Director of Education Brendan Hyatt has addressed some concerns with the new school that were raised in an email to the Times.

The email brought up a concern that the new consolidated school was built without a library space, meaning the collection of books from St. Michael's and St. Francis schools would be dismantled, and leading to a reduction of the librarian to the role of an educational assistant.

Hyatt said that is untrue.

“The new building absolutely has a library, and Jenny Sieders, our current librarian between the two schools, is already working on setting it up and getting things ready for it,” Hyatt said.

The library space in the new St. Mary School is comparable in size to the ones that exist in the other two elementary schools, and Hyatt noted the function of a library in a school space has shifted over the years, and not just because of e-books.

“There's a little stage in there for drama, there's a little kitchen area for doing different kinds of learning and pedagogy in there,” Hyatt said of the new space.

“So it's a multi-use library facility, but it absolutely is a library.”

Additionally, the email noted concern with the size of the building, and alleged that the school would require “up to six new portables” in order to accommodate students.

While the school will have portables ready for use when the school opens, Hyatt explained that as due to the requirements for funding the school building.

“When we initially put the capital funding request to the government of Ontario, as per the procedure, we had to give them a number of students that we were anticipating being in the school,” he said.

“At the time, the number that we had -and it had to be based on actuals, it couldn't be based on speculation or 'what-ifs?'—it was built for 345 students, but enrolment at St. Michael's and St. Francis has increased to the point where it's around 410 and obviously when you get more students you have to accommodate them.”

As a result, Hyatt said the school will have three portables on the grounds for when students arrive in January.

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