“I wish I had good news, but I don’t.”
Those are the words of the Red River Valley School Division, Superintendent and CEO, Brad Curtis.
Back on Monday, April 11, 2022, dignitaries, teachers, students, staff and the residents of St. Malo gathered outside École St-Malo School, eager to hear about and see the design plans of the addition and renovation plans of the 65-year-old school.
It’s now over a year later and Curtis describes where construction is at these days,
“Everything is going well, it looks incredible. We’re very excited about what is done," he said, but noted, realistically, the work wasn't going to be completed by last week's forecasted timeline. "It was hopeful but not realistic. We are hoping that everything can be walked in as a final walk through, and hopefully have occupancy in January would probably be the most realistic, so that everything was ready, start to finish.”
“We’re getting to the 80% completion stage. Like, it’s really coming together. But we’ve had some supply chain issues, in particular the electrical panels have been a hold up, just because they weren’t available. That is what’s caused the delay. So, we’re really looking at the end of November opening date, but realistically, more than likely the first week of January opening.”
The original school was built in 1958 with an addition expanding space in 1980.
“However, today there are 5 portable classrooms, and has been quickly outgrowing its walls. Students and staff have not been together in the same building in years," said Charlene Geiler, chair of the Red River Valley School Division Board of Trustees last year.
“They have been moved out to pods and even another building off the property. And from what you can see here, we really have a great community. A fresh new school will make this community shine.”
The school addition and renovation delay are “kind of a package deal”, notes Curtis.
“When you’re combining old with new there’s always going to be challenges. We had to increase the size of the water-pump, because we didn’t have enough pressure for the entire school. We had to upgrade the electrical to a certain standard, because of the size of the building. What we had wouldn’t have worked either. We also had to upgrade our sprinkler system.”
“Tying the old to the new, is very difficult, it would have been easier if it had been all brand new. Plus, they are still renovating the existing building.”
The cost of constructing the 23,000 sq ft addition and renovating the old school comes at a cost of over $16-million, and will include 10 new classrooms, a new gymnasium and a multi-purpose space. It will also have fire life safety upgrades, a new life-skills resource and guidance suite, with renovations to existing spaces to connect and upgrade required services and utilities.
Curtis says the 250 students currently enrolled in the Kindergarten to Grade 8 school, will definitely see changes when they arrive for a new school year.
“It’s better now than it was in June. We have access to more renovated space to start on Wednesday, than we did in June. And with the student count about the same as last year, we’ll be fine. The real move will happen once the addition is open, and we move all the students from the 5-huts into the main building.”
When it comes to student safety during the remainder of the work, Curtis says, “Students will be returning to class under the same rules they left with (in June). If there are any spaces that have opened-up, they’ll get orientation for that.”
He says teachers looking forward to the new facility.
“Oh man, they are super excited. They had a walk through at the end of June, and as they return to their classrooms, they are looking around to see what else has been done over the summer months. So, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s really bright.”
Talking to families of École St-Malo School students, Curtis says,
“It’s just going to be getting a little bit better each week, and since the kids haven’t been there for two months, they are going to see a noticeable difference already, and it’s only going to continue to get better each month.”
Curtis notes that the new bus loop won’t be ready for the start of school, so student drop-off and pick-up will be the same, until the new addition and bus loop is completed.
He says, though the building isn’t ready for occupancy, “everything is so close. From the outside things may look finished, but it’s not, there’s still things that need to be done.”
For students and staff of École St-Malo School, Wednesday was the first day of classes.
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