Modernization continues at Innisfail’s Catholic school

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Hundreds of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School students have already made their temporary learning home at neighbouring École John Wilson Elementary School as the Innisfail Catholic school will soon be under construction for the second phase of a multi-million-dollar modernization project.

“Jason Drent, the principal at John Wilson, and administration have been fantastic, a really good working team. We have to,” said Shane Chisholm, principal at St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School, who noted his 326 students from kindergarten to Grade 9 have been in their temporary quarters in John Wilson’s upper floor since September.

“We’re in modernization. The patience of staff has also been amazing.”

The first phase of the modernization project, which included the transfer of new spaces from John Wilson school and the reconfiguration of old areas, like the long-standing gymnasium that was transformed into new science, music, and home economics classrooms, was completed last year. The reconfiguration at the school also allowed for the construction of a new foyer, its first-ever chapel, new front staff office space, a boardroom and counselling suites.

And now the second phase will soon begin, one that will include a long overdue modernization of the school’s mechanical, electrical and ventilation systems.

Ken Jaeger, supervisor of support services for Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, said Alberta Infrastructure is managing the project with tenders closed for the second phase in mid-January. He said the contract will be awarded this week, with construction beginning on site in March. The work should be completed by next fall, he said.

“A lot of the systems are pretty antiquated and difficult to maintain and find parts. That is what is really driving it all,” said Jaeger of the urgently needed infrastructure work, but noting there will be modernization to teaching spaces as well. ”We are doing a fairly in-depth modernization. It is more than just a coat of paint with new colours on the wall. It is very thorough.”

The modernization at St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School is the first since 1985 when the building was owned and used by the predecessor of Chinook’s Edge School Division. The building was transferred to Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools in 2003 following a request to the provincial government to have a Catholic school in Innisfail. Chinook’s Edge still owns the building, which now serves about 326 students from kindergarten to Grade 9 as well as 36 staff members.

Jaeger said the cost for the two-phase modernization work at St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School is difficult to calculate because it’s part of the overall cost for the entire Innisfail Schools Campus construction project, which included expansion. The province committed $6.9 million for the first phase, and another $12 million in early 2014 to modernize John Wilson school, which directly ties into needed upgrades at the Catholic institution. However, he did estimate work specifically done for the St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School portion could cost in the “three- to four-million-dollar range.”

He said the electrical and mechanical portion of construction being done in Phase 2 is about 50 to 60 per cent of the total work, with the rest on upgrades to the 14 classrooms in the north and south wings and the old John Wilson library. Those upgrades will include new flooring, fresh paint and new windows.

Jaeger attributed the success of the project to the ongoing coordinated working relationship between the school, Chinook’s Edge School Division, the contractor, architect and design team, which has ensured a smooth transition for staff and students, and avoided the necessity of bringing in temporary classrooms that would have been an additional cost for the project.

“Both (school) divisions have done a great job,” noted Chisholm. “Both are looking for the best bang for their buck. That has made the collaboration even better.”

Shane Chisholm, principal at St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School

“Jason Drent, the principal at John Wilson, and administration have been fantastic, a really good working team. We have to. We’re in modernization.”

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Johnnie Bachusky joined the Innisfail Province as editor in 2013. He covers Innisfail and Red Deer County news, police, crime and municipal politics. He is also a photographer and columnist.