With the Northwest Catholic District School Board receiving an estimated $11.9 million for the construction of a new school to consolidate St. Michael’s and St. Francis Schools here, Grade 5 students at St. Francis had some ideas about what they’d like to see in it.
They also had some questions they were able to have addressed by Education Director Rick Boisvert and Superintendent of Education Brendan Hyatt when they visited the school last week.
Teacher Karen Papineau said the students had been learning to write formal letters and decided they could write about their ideas for the new school.
The letters were addressed to Hyatt, who took the time to respond to each student in Papineau’s and Tina Gurski’s classes.
“They had some pretty neat ideas,” Papineau noted.
While some came up with ideas of including a swimming pool, others had some more reasonable thoughts.
“A lot of them focused on that they wanted it to be two levels,” she explained, adding it was a really good exercise for the students.
“They learned writing skills but also got them involved in the process of building a new consolidated school,” she reasoned.
After receiving responses from Hyatt, Papineau said the students wanted more information.
So Boisvert and Hyatt agreed to visit the classes.
“You give this opportunity to them and they’ll ask questions,” she remarked.
“They become more aware of what’s going on, and they feel better about asking questions and getting the information.”
“I haven’t forgotten that it’s about kids,” Hyatt stressed.
“If they would take the time to write me a letter . . . then I’m going to take the time to respond.”
And he agreed they had some great ideas.
For instance, several students suggested including lockers in the new school.
“I think lockers would be nice because nobody could invade your privacy,” one student wrote to Hyatt.
“Also, sicknesses and head lice would not spread from jackets and hats touching other.
“If you have gym clothes, you could also keep those in the locker, too.”
Another student thought it would be good to build an outdoor running track.
“Imagine, instead of always being inside for gym, we could go outside on the track and run for gym,” the student noted.
“We could have running races and different schools could come race.”
A number of students also suggested including a cafeteria.
“I think this could benefit students because students would not have to pack lunches and you would get to sit where you want,” one offered.
“The cafeteria should serve healthy food.”
Hyatt admitted the idea of a cafeteria wasn’t something he thought about until the students suggested it since it isn’t common for elementary schools.
Other ideas for the school included having two gyms, a bigger library, an art room, and a chapel.
“When the first idea was a chapel, I knew we were doing the right thing,” Gurski said.
When Hyatt and Boisvert visited the students last Wednesday morning, they explained how the process to seek funding for a new school began.
“We started the process quite a while ago when the ministry approached school boards in Ontario and said they were providing funding for things such as consolidation of schools,” Hyatt noted.
“When we looked at this at the board level, we thought that this might be a good opportunity for us to consolidate St. Michael’s and St. Francis.”
He said the reason the board went through the consolidation process was because the on-the-ground capacity of the two schools wasn’t where the ministry expected it to be.
Hyatt noted the capacity at St. Francis at the time was around 59 percent while St. Michael’s was around 69 percent.
“When we looked at those numbers, we were a bit under capacity,” he remarked, noting the ministry said the two schools could hold a total of roughly 600 students.
“When we took our report to the ministry, we had 345 students between the two schools,” he added.
The board put together a proposal, held consultations with stakeholders and parents, and the ministry approved the project.
“While it seems like $11.9 million is a lot of money, it has to build one school to replace two schools,” Hyatt cautioned the students.
“So we’re going to have to be really careful how we use that money so that we get the best possible school so that you guys have a good place to learn, work, and play with each other,” he stressed.
“We want to make sure that however we build the school, it is a really good school for students to learn,” echoed Boisvert.
“As a Catholic school, we are also here to develop our faith so we need to have that presence in our school, as well.
“Beyond that, we want to make sure our school is safe and welcoming,” he added.
“All of those things are things that we’re considering and will be considering in the design, as well, because they are all really important.
“The reality is, when we build this school, it’s going to be here for a long time so we can’t go back and change the design,” Boisvert explained.
“That’s why we’re trying to get information from as many people as we can, and work within all those parameters set out for us, to make sure we have a really good school.
“We want to get it right.”
Hyatt said the board is in the very early stages of constructing the new consolidated school.
“We are in the process of filling out a ministry school template,” he explained.
“That’s a template that the ministry provides to school boards and we decide what we would like in our new school.”
Then the board sends that off to the ministry for approval.
It expects that step of the process will be completed in about six-eight weeks.
Once that has been approved, the board then will begin to look at the design.
At this time, the board knows the new school will be built on the current St. Francis School grounds, but they don’t know where on the property or when construction will begin.
But Boisvert noted the current Grade 5 classes will be in the new school.
“You will be the big kids in the school,” he remarked, adding both he and Hyatt were pleased the students were taking such an interest in the project.
The students had some questions for the pair to answer:
- What’s the name going to be?
Hyatt noted the board is working on the procedure right now, so it will go through a procedure to name the school.
“It might not be St. Francis or St. Michael’s, it might be something different,” he conceded.
- What will happen to the old schools?
Boisvert noted they’ll have to consider what happens to this older building.
“I’m almost certain it’s going to be removed but I just don’t know when or how,” he said.
“[The] St. Michael’s property will be sold.”
- What will happen to the students during the build?
“We will keep the students at St. Michael’s and we’re hoping we’re going to be able to keep our students in St. Francis, or at least in part of St. Francis, during the build,” Hyatt replied.
“But we are actually exploring other options in case we aren’t able to do that.
“It might mean that St. Michael’s might become a kindergarten to Grade 5 school for a year.
“I know it’s not ideal but there are other things we are looking at,” Hyatt added.
- Will we use the same desks and chairs?
“We will use some of the materials, but we will also put into place a capital budget so we can replace some of the furniture,” Hyatt said.