It’s a go.
After years of asking for a new facility to replace Walnut Park Elementary and weeks of speculation that it might actually happen, the Ministry of Education announced on Thursday it will fund the build.
Minister of Education Rob Fleming, along with Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson, visited the school to give students, teachers and other members of Bulkley Valley School District 54 (SD54) the good news.
The school is over 50 years old and is sitting on unstable land. The cost of upgrading the facility exceeds the cost of a full replacement. The $28.5-million plan will see construction of a new two-storey building with 21st century learning in mind.
“Some of it is around space design; we’ve changed the curriculum to teach students skills around collaboration, some of that is project based learning,” said Flemming. “It is about intentional design features that match what goes on typically in a school day. It is different than what happen in the 1950s when Walnut Park was built.”
It will be built beside the old school and once it is complete, students will move into the new school and the old one will be demolished. The hope is that shovels will be in the ground next spring and it will be ready for use in two years.
It will also have space for the StrongStart program and a neighbourhood learning centre.
SD54 and the Town of Smithers will work together to determine the best use of the neighbourhood learning centre to serve the needs to the community.
SD54 board chair Jen Williams said they’ve been advocating for a new building for many years.
“We believe this announcement will help stoke the fire of education and curiosity of students, and we hope this will also be an opportunity for our community to plan outside of silos and form more effective partnerships,” she said. “SD54 has had a focus on education and transformation in learning for several years and we are thrilled to see this project approved. We look forward to the opportunity to plan a new and innovative space that will help inspire students now and into the future.”
Fleming said this project was critical and a high priority for the ministry.
“The Bulkley Valley is a dynamic, vital, growing community. There is good news going on in the district, not just the new school which is the first one in generations but also enrolment is up again, which is a very positive sign,” he said. “I had been here in October so I understand the structural issues here, there are some safety issues with this building so it was important for me to see some follow through with that.”
Stikine MLA and the minister responsible for rural development Doug Donaldson added this is an investment in rural communities.
“I think it also has to been seen as that … making rural communities like Smithers more attractive for people to come and live here if they are considering to come here for employment and looking at new facilities if they have a family. As well, we looking at the people that live here, that they have a good quality of life,” he said.
Donaldson added that after Lake Kathlyn Elementary was closed last year, he is happy to be able to deliver good news for the school district.
“I know there was concern about over crowding issues when the students moved from Lake Kathlyn to Walnut so I’m sure a new building will address most of those concerns.”
There will be space for 440 elementary students 25 more than the current capacity. The new school will be built to highly efficient Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold standards.
The Province is contributing up to $27.6 million for the project, and SD54 is contributing an additional $900,000.
The goal is to have students in the new building for the 2020-21 school year.