Staff tour rekindles excitement in new school build

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Staff at Huntsville School had the opportunity to tour the replacement building and provide input on some of the finishing touches in the $11-million project.

IRON SPRINGS – Huntsville School staff have pushed aside outside distractions – including the replacement building under construction next door – to focus squarely on their students in these uncertain times.

They recently got the chance, however, for a sneak peek at the $11-million project and that brought a smile to a lot of faces.

”It certainly has generated that excitement again,” said Huntsville School Principal Chris Spanos, of the first staff walk-through since early in the new year. “There’s been lots of wondering as to how things are progressing. We are starting to get to the point where we’re organizing materials to transition over (to the new school), so teachers are starting to think about spaces and how they can set up those spaces.”

The new kindergarten to Grade 12 school is being built just steps away from the existing building, which dates back to 1941. It will have a capacity of 240 to accommodate the growing number of Low German-speaking Mennonite (LGM) students, which account for about 95 per cent of enrolment there. The replacement school was designed by FWBA Architects, and Lear Construction is the contractor.

“It’s bright, it’s airy,” said teacher Pam McCallum, after touring the new school building with colleagues. “I think the kids will really glob onto how interactive everything is in the school, and how it’s a really good space for collaboration we didn’t have a chance with at the old school.”

The visit was more than just an opportunity to quench staff members’ curiosity. With the work now focused on finishing touches, Spanos said it was another chance to get staff input on items like furniture, different seating options for students, and the placement of classroom technology.

“I love the primary colours,” said McCallum of the paint scheme throughout the new school. “When you think of a (kindergarten to Grade 12) school you think of everything being such of a growth thing, and I think the primary colours really tie the spaces together.”

While staff feedback has been sought from the design phase onward, Spanos noted the importance of leaving learning spaces with enough flexibility to meet the needs of staff and students for years to come.

Huntsville students were able to watch the progress of the new school until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a switch to learning at a distance. When they finally get their chance to see completed project, he believes those students will be most excited about some of the features the existing school doesn’t have.

“I think one of the things the students are going to be drawn to – as as soon as you enter the building – is the large, multi-purpose gathering space with the learning commons and a much larger gym space and how open and accessible it’s going to be,” said Spanos.

Some of the older students will appreciate kitchen classroom space, which will allow for a foods program. Sure to be a hit with the younger students, as well as the entire Iron Springs community, will be a new playground to go along with the new school.

A committee of parents and staff members had raised almost $70,000 towards a new playground. With Alberta Education providing a $215,000-funding boost, the playground is now scheduled to open in the fall.

The government just recently announced a total of $5 million in funding to build playgrounds at schools in 18 jurisdictions across the province. That provincial money, along with funds already raised by the Huntsville school community, will allow for not only a playground structure but also a paved-playing surface to accommodate basketball and pickle ball.

Spanos is thankful for the support of Alberta Education and its other partners in the project, and hopes the playground news will further cement the sense of welcoming they want the community to experience.

“There’s so many added features and elements to the new school that’s bringing excitement to our community currently,” said the Huntsville School principal. “To have play structures and outdoor play surfaces that enhance that should just help with that overall feeling, that overall picture.”

Since the committee had already chosen a design for the project the equipment can be ordered promptly and should be in place by next September. A newer section of the existing structure will be incorporated into the playground, with an older, wooden-component to be removed.

Exactly when and what opening festivities might look like for the new Huntsville School are dependent on health guidelines and other conditions, which are still evolving at this point.

The staff does have newly announced plans, however, for public tours of the existing school building on Friday, June 12 between 9 a.m. and noon.

To protect the health of those present and former students and families wishing to bid the old school farewell, only small groups will be allowed in the building at one time. Tour times must be booked in advance, on a first-come, first-served basis, by calling the school office at 403-738-4522.