Just in time for the new school year, the Rainbow District School Board has completed multi-million dollar expansions and renovations at two of their South End elementary schools.
At Algonquin Road Public School, $4.5 million was spent on an addition containing two early learning classrooms and a gymnasium, as well as on renovations which turned the old gymnasium into four new classrooms and converted other classrooms into a library, music room and staff room.
At R.L. Beattie Public School, $2 million was spent to build two new classrooms and a new gymnasium, as well as a new office area.
Although the major work has been completed at both schools, there's still some minor finishing touches, such as landscaping, that still needs to be done.
Norm Blaseg, director of education with the Rainbow District School Board, said revitalizing schools not only gives kids access to better facilities, it can, in the long run, help the board's bottom line.
“We have to look at our carbon footprint, and see if we can ensure we have some upgrades that produce some savings,” he said.
“For example, if we can reduce our operating costs from $3 a square foot to $1 a square foot, that's optimal for us, because we can use those savings for students in the long run.”
Construction is still underway at a third South End school run by the board. MacLeod Public School was recently torn down to make way for a new, $17.9-million building due to be completed 12 to 18 months from now.
Blaseg said the board is thrilled with how both the R.L. Beattie and Algonquin projects turned out.
While touring Algonquin along with Northern Life Sept. 7, one of the school's teachers stopped him and told him he wouldn't change a thing about the revitalized school.
“It was quite exciting to see that,” he said. “It's also quite exciting to see the kids in the school responding the way they have. We've had wonderful support from parents too, which is really gratifying.”
Not that the projects have come without controversy. The changes were made after an accommodation review process of all of the board's South End schools.
In the end, the board decided to close Wanup Public School and Long Lake Public School. Most of the students at these schools are now attending Algonquin, although, depending on where they live, some of the Wanup students are being sent to Northeastern Elementary School.
The work on Algonquin was done to accommodate these students. Last year, 260 children attended Algonquin, but with the influx of Wanup and Long Lake students, the school's population now sits at 340.
Although many Wanup and Long Lake parents weren't happy with the changes, Blaseg said he hopes they'll come to realize that a school isn't about bricks and mortar — it's about community. He said in time, these parents will start to feel like they belong at the new school.
Bob Deeth, principal of Algonquin Road Public School, said the process of introducing the students to each other began last year. Algonquin, Wanup and Long Lake students participated in skating, skiing and fun days together, he said.
Although school only started a few short days ago, the student body is starting to mesh, Deeth, who was also the principal of Long Lake last year, said.
“It's not just Long Lake and Wanup students hanging out together,” he said. “Of course, many of the kids know each other already through soccer or hockey or those kinds of activities.”
When they started class at Algonquin Sept. 4, the former Long Lake students found something familiar at their new school. The playground structure from Long Lake was installed at Algonquin.
“It's an incredible facility for the kids,” Deeth said. “At Long Lake, every student would use it every day. It's something we can bring from that school here, and the kids are familiar with it. When we're done the landscaping, we'll have two playground structures outside.”
He said his favourite parts of the new school are the new classrooms, which have skylights to let in natural light, as well as the new gymnasium.
“I'm a former high school phys ed teacher,” Deeth said. “To have a brand-new gym where we can accommodate two classes at the same time is exciting.”
Paul Dupont, principal of R.L. Beattie, spoke to Northern Life during a Sept. 6 open house for parents.
Unlike at Algonquin, the work at R.L. Beattie was done because the school was overcapacity, and needed more room for students.
“By adding a few new classrooms, were able to accommodate everyone, which is close to 440 students this year,” he said.
Given all of the construction at the school in recent months, it's been a very busy time, Dupont said.
“But just to see the students coming in with smiles on their faces and looking at the new gym and the new classrooms makes it all worthwhile,” he said.
Like his counterpart at Algonquin, Dupont said he's really excited about the new gym.
“Before, we had a very small gym with a low ceiling on it,” he said.
“Now we've got a nice, big gym that can be divided into two gyms. It has a much higher roof for volleyball or basketball. You can accommodate double the number of classes in the gym, which means they get a lot more gym time.”
Meanwhile, parents visiting R.L. Beattie during the open house gave the renovations an A plus.
“It's fabulous — really, really fabulous,” said Jennifer Pink, whose son, Sam Gore, is in Grade 8 at the school. “I'm really excited.
Sam told me 'Mom, we have a really big gym just like a high school gym.' It's really great for the school.”
Anne Punkkinen, whose daughters' Mallorie and Gabrielle Punkkinen are in grades 6 and 2 at the school, said before the renovations, R.L. Beattie was somewhat overcrowded.
“I think it's well needed because there's a lot of students at this school, and they were running out of space,” she said. “The classrooms were getting small, and the library was getting even smaller. It's nice to see the extra space, and a new gym as well.”