By Keenan Weaver
Renovations at local elementary schools are bringing the buildings and technology into the 21st century.
The Government of Ontario will invest $1 billion over the next three years in renovating elementary schools across the province. With over 23,000 renewal projects on the go, many schools are on their way to becoming more modern, accommodating facilities.
Four schools in the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board are part of the ongoing project. In Belleville, Sir John A Macdonald School and Prince Charles Public School have been undergoing changes.
Sir John A Macdonald School received funding as part of the province-wide initiative to fix up the structure and cosmetics of the building. Renovations include a new addition to the school for extra classrooms and a collection of new technology.
Principal Carol Fisher said they’re taking the right steps towards a “21st century learning environment.”
“We do need classrooms that are technically ready to educate children in the 21st century.” She said. “All of our classrooms have smartboards, the school is completely Wi-Fi.”
They exchanged their computer lab for two carts, each with 24 laptops for student access. The computers on wheels, or C.O.W.S. as they call them, can go to classrooms or anywhere in the school.
Fisher said the front office also received a security upgrade.
“We now have windows and adequate safety precautions for our doors.” she said.
“They’re locked; we’re going to have a buzzer. So all those things that keep children safe at school, while keeping the main thing the main thing, which is learning. “
The interior renovation involved converting an open area into several multipurpose rooms. These can be classrooms, kitchens, change rooms and others.
“All the things a school needs to be Junior Kindergarten to Grade Eight.” Said Fisher.
The construction forced staff to operate out of the old Sir Mackenzie Bowell site for the first two weeks of school. Teachers spent all day Monday setting up their new classrooms to get ready for the children on Tuesday.
“We emptied an entire school and now we’re filling it again. It’s quite an undertaking and we have had amazing support from our own internal services. We’re most appreciative of that.” She said.
Because of the temporary arrangement, the school had to keep its part-time kindergarten schedule. The new kindergarten classes are still being worked on, leaving the school to start full-day kindergarten in September of 2012.
A $3 million contract was awarded to Mirtren Contractors Ltd. of Trenton last November for the addition and renovations.
The grand opening of the completed school is on January 11, 2012, the anniversary of Sir John A’s 197th birthday.
Prince Charles Public School is also being remodeled and restored to make room for grade six to eight students from the former Sir Mackenzie Bowell School.
Martin Smit was recently hired as principal of Prince Charles. Although he came in mid-project, he’s very excited by the progress so far.
“Renovations on the old section started on the last day of school in June.” he said. “We have all brand new windows, the classrooms have all been redone. They’ve added washrooms and reconfigured some of the rooms. So really just a freshening up.”
There is also an addition being built on the side of the school. It will include the largest elementary school gymnasium in the board, a community hub for private agencies and several multipurpose rooms.
Two of these will be the brand new kindergarten classrooms. With three full-day kindergarten classes and almost 80 students, the new space will be much more accommodating for everyone.
Smit feels these changes will make for a much better education.
“Environment plays a bit part in students’ education,” he said. ”This school was definitely due for a makeover. It’s an old school, it was very tired looking. It’s great for this community to have a fresh new start in terms of a school”
“We have a lot of new furniture. Everything is fresh you know, fresh paint, fresh drywall, a brand new big facility,” Smit said.
“I think its more motivating for students to be in school. We’ll have the comfort of geothermal, brand new windows. All of those things that make the environment so much more comfortable for learning, and teaching.”
Renovations will also include the construction of a hub to house various community agencies. Prince Charles will host agencies with parenting programs, evening programs for kids and many outside agencies that help support children and their families.
Smit hopes with extra support and accessibility, the facility can become a true community school.
The closure of Sir Mackenzie Bowell Public School made renovations at the other schools possible. The board deemed it “prohibitive to repair,” meaning the site is no longer viable and has structural issues not worth maintaining.
To make up for the closure, both Sir John A. and Prince Charles schools can now accommodate junior kindergarten to grade eight classes.
Both institutions are part of a $15 million investment the HPEDSB received to upgrade four of its schools. Sir John A Macdonald, Prince Charles Public, York River of Bancroft and Athol-South Marysburgh in Cherry Valley are all receiving upgrades.