What does it take to move a school?
That’s a question local educators, contractors and politicians have found themselves trying to answer ever since the move of Quesnel Junior School (QJS) to the former Maple Drive Junior School (MDJS) was announced last November.
MDJS was closed 15 years ago due to a decline in enrollment.
Approximately 475 Grade 8 and 9 students will start classes at the temporary school next week (Aug. 6). MDJS was designed for a capacity of 400 students, presenting a challenge to those in charge of the move.
The principal of the school, Suzanne Bolin, says: “we’ve had to use the space creatively.”
Even with three portables set up, there will be a class taking place in the cafeteria and a math class taking place in the art room. Normally, teachers might have an off block in their classroom to prep for their next class. In the new facility, teachers won’t be able to do that.
“We’ve maximized the spaces as best we can,” she says. “But it’s not ideal.”
“It’s not even close to being ideal,” adds Scott Thomson, the manager of operations, who has led renovations to make the new facility usable. “But they’re doing a great job utilizing it.”
Students were originally set to move into the school in March 2018, but those working on MDJS were unable to have it ready on time. Thomson says the delay was mostly due to wait times in getting materials delivered and trying to get everything organized in a short amount of time.
The Ministry of Education provided $1.7 million toward the renovations at MDJS for the temporary school. “Mostly it’s just lipstick, paint, you know. We didn’t touch any of the mechanical system, the electrical system,” says Thomson. Both of those systems, he later adds, are nearing the end of their lifespan.
Thomson says to get the school ready for students, they had to take everything out, fix it up, and then re-install it.
“There was a huge upgrade in technology. Because this building, when it was closed 15 years ago, you can imagine the technological advance in 15 years in the education system. So that was one of the bigger undertakings.”
Things like the bathrooms were also re-done. But, says Thomson, “you don’t get much for 1.7 [million] nowadays.”
Bolin says classrooms are looking good, despite the spatial challenges teachers are facing for the upcoming school year. “Everybody has worked really hard, from all our school district staff to our local contractors, to make sure that this is the best, safe space for students to be.”
Now, with the location in Maple Drive ready to take in students and become the temporary Quesnel Junior School, the school board and district are working toward a long-term solution.
Sue-Ellen Miller, the superintendent of schools for School District #28, says the Ministry of Education asked them to put forward three options in a report due at the end of October. “One is a renovation of the old QJS, one is a renovation to [the temporary QJS in the MDJS building], [and one is] a new school.
“So what we have to do is cost out all of those options, and then it has to go before treasury to see which option is the most cost effective and meets our needs.”
Of course, adds Miller, they are most interested in building a new school. “This building has a number of old systems in it and those – everything – needs to be upgraded. So we see this as a temporary fix.”
They’re hoping the announcement of the chosen option will be take place in February 2019.
Gloria Jackson, the chairperson of the school board, says a new school would, ideally, be built on the same property as MDJS, but in the back of the school and to the side.
“This is a school that every child in elementary [in Quesnel] will attend, and so it’s something important for the community,” says Jackson.
Local students will return to school next week. There will be an orientation day for incoming Grade 8 students on Wednesday, Sept. 5, and regular classes will begin for both grades on Thursday, Sept. 6.