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High school appears to offer much

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Students registering for classes this week who just saw the front atrium of the new Fort Frances High School--with all the hustle and bustle and a lot of yellow warning tape--may not think much of it yet.

But principal Terry Ellwood has no doubt students, and the public, will be satisfied when they see what the school will offer in educational and community-based terms when class starts next Tuesday.

“This has been a long time coming and the whole community will be proud,” beamed Ellwood during a tour through the school yesterday.

From the bright, clean interior of the school’s atrium to the vast Townsend Theatre, Ellwood noted the school was planned to be very attractive, with a positive atmosphere.

“Nobody wants to go to school in a place where tiles are falling from the ceiling,” he chuckled, referring to the old FFHS on First Street East.

But keeping the focus on education, he was quick noted some of the “showcase” aspects of the multi-use facility at Westfort.

The large double gym features an electronic scoreboard, some bleacher seating, a perch for photographers and video technicians, and plenty of trappings displaying school pride--right down to the large Muskie “M” at centre court.

Ellwood especially was pleased with a custom-made gym mat hanging on the north wall. “It’s pretty rare to see schools in Ontario, let alone Canada, have one of these--it really shows school pride,” he enthused.

Athletes will be able to stay in shape in the large weight room, which is well-stocked with fitness equipment and mirrored walls.

The Townsend Theatre also looms large as a spacious and well-equipped facility, providing all the lighting, staging, and seating for a full-blown musical or a Shakespearean drama.

The library also is improved, being double the size of the one in the old school and hosting more than 20 computer terminals for research purposes.

“The library staff is extremely pleased with it,” remarked librarian Laurel Halvorsen. “A lot of planning went into it, and it’s turned out attractive and functional.”

Ellwood noted his favourite part of the school was the tech department, where some of the newest equipment available in the education field is found.

Amid the several classrooms and the traditional workshop areas is the tech lab, which features 14 simulator stations covering the transportation, manufacturing, communications, and construction aspects of the course.

“Everything’s computerized--students can work on a virtual welding job or use a flight simulator,” remarked Ellwood. “In addition to planning out and doing activities, some of which you’ll do ‘hands on’ later, the student gets virtual feedback.”

Common features throughout all the classrooms include a suspended TV/VCR, air-conditioning, new desks, and “whiteboards” in place of blackboards.

“The days of chalk are over. [Using a marker] reduces dust for those with allergies,” noted Ellwood. “Plus, when we have computers in every room, dust would affect them.”

Native Studies also get a boost, with a Round Room built for traditional aboriginal purposes.

Looking at the school from a community point of view, Ellwood assured everything would be done to make parts of the facility--such as the Townsend Theatre--well used.

“Parts such as the theatre will be under the auspices of the school during the day but in the evenings, it will be available for rent,” he explained.

“Our theatre committee has worked to make a fee schedule that’s very reasonable, and I know I’d like to see a production there on a monthly or even weekly basis,” added Ellwood.

He also suggested the cafeteria, located just outside the theatre doors, could be used in conjunction with dinner theatre events. And Confederation College even will play a part in some high school programming.

For example, grade 12 students will be able to take a business course from Confederation College as part of their courseload, with the credit going towards further post-secondary education.

“That will have a two-fold benefit. It’s a drawing card for Confederation College to get students to continue their education there,” Ellwood explained.

“Plus it gives kids a leg up--they’ll be going into college with credit under their belt,” he added.

Even with this much to offer, the school may see even more changes in years to come. One such plan includes a direct feed, which will allow announcements to be visually broadcast live to almost any part of the school.

On a final note, Ellwood said although the school definitely will be ready for students come Tuesday morning, it would never have been possible to have everything done before the first day of school.

“The move isn’t an event, it’s a process,” he remarked. “There will be little things we’ll addressing along the way as we find things that may have to be adjusted.”

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