Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Modernization plan for St. Michael's School announced

Alberta Minister of Infrastructure Ric McIver at St. Michael's
C. Davis photos and video

Chris Davis

St. Michael's School in Pincher Creek got an early present for its upcoming 110th birthday.

Alberta Minister of Infrastructure Ric McIver was the keynote speaker at an event held in the school's Dale Wentz Memorial Gymnasium on January 28.  In attendance were many dignitaries, students, former students, and former principals. During his speech McIver announced that St. Michael's has been greenlighted for a modernization project.

 "It was a couple of years ago, before the last election when the Premier announced that we would be building 50 new schools and modernizing 70 others," explained McIver after the event.  "This is just us keeping our promise."

While short on details at this time, including an absence of dollar figures, the St. Michael's project will include structural work to improve the building envelope and the roof, and mechanical and electrical upgrades.

Principal Don Kuchison
"The biggest changes would be what a classroom looks like," explained Principal Don Kuchison after the event.  "They would also be looking at the idea of creating what we call a career and technologies study (CTS) suite.  Instead of different classrooms throughout the school they would have a CTS suite for art, music, drama, food studies... it covers a broad range of courses.  By having the suite we would be able to have those classes in one area, with more modern facilities."

"Some things are coming down, some things are staying."

According to the official Government of Alberta press release, "Modernization work will also result in savings related to ongoing costs of maintaining space that is currently not used."

"Modernized schools incorporate advanced systems and features such as large windows that provide natural lighting and ventilation systems that improve air quality and circulation, creating a healthy learning and working environment for students and teachers and others who use the schools."

The event began with a performance by Mrs. Shelly Alexander's school choir, which includes students from grades 2 to 5.  They sang  a charming medley replete with wonderful counterpoint harmonies.

St. Michael's School Principal Don Kuchison was the master of ceremonies for the event.  He began by introducing the many dignitaries in attendance, including former St. Michael's Principals Mr. Ray Viel, Tom Haliburton, Garth Renyk, and Rollie Cote.  Prayers were offered in Blackfoot by Piikani Nation's Mrs. Little Bow, in English by Cadence Sinnott, and in French by immersion student Ronan Gelber.*

Then it was time for the keynote speaker of the event, Minister of Infrastructure the Honorable Ric McIver.  The rumour mill had been working overtime as to what was going to happen to St. Michael's, and the anticipatory tension in the room was palpable. During which Minister McIver touted the value of schools to the communities they serve, and spoke of the Conservative Party's commitment to education. Extensive excerpts of his speech (and speeches by others) are below, as is a video that includes most of the speeches entire.

"Our government is working hard to make sure that students, and communities today into the future continue to have the world class education available to them that they deserve and they need."

"That's why this last spring, and in the last month we've had Government of Alberta officials travelling the Province talking to school boards, talking to teachers, talking to parents, and finding out what is needed so we could best understand how to maintain and improve the learning environment that our children are in."

"As you well know, school infrastructure comes in many forms, sometimes new schools, sometimes in modernizing schools that are there."

"You students, you are the reason all of this is going on.  You are the most important people when it comes to the future.  You are going to be running this world in ten or twenty years from now."

Ric McIver with fluent St. Michael's French Immersion student Mathias Gelber
"You will be the teachers, you will be the principals, you'll be running the businesses around here, and yes, some of you will even be the politicians.  So it's very important that we provide the best education for you that we can.  Because we want you to be meeting the world, not following it.  We want you to be making choices about your future, not taking what's left over."

"That has everything to do with the great education you're getting here.  Of course, the great teachers, principals, the school trustees all play a part in that.  But you, you students, you are the reason that this is important."

"Looking around, St. Michael's isn't a big school, but you can see it's been well maintained, a lot of love and care went into this place, which is why it's in such great shape today.  But when we're finished, there's interior and exterior upgrades and modifications, to make sure that these students and teachers have up to top-notch supporting facilities that you deserve."

"The revitalized space will have enhanced technology, the modernized school with meet the specialized education needs that we believe will enable you students to succeed in the world after you leave this place."

"No construction project comes without some inconvenience.  Our pledge to you as our ministry and our government:  We'll work with the principal, the teachers, and the local community to do our best to minimize those disruptions, but make no mistake, we will have those disruptions."

"At the end of the day, we'll all be proud of the new St.Michael's School, as proud as we are now.  We'll all be confident that the new St. Michael's School will be well suited to take us all into the future, and have you young people prepared to run the world."

Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional School District Chairperson Terry O'Donnell was the next speaker.  O'Donnell thanked Minister McIver on behalf of the district and the board of trustees. "The modernization of St. Michael's School has been one of the boards top capital priorities for over a decade."  He was followed by Superintendent Christopher Smeaton, who said "It's great to be here today and be part of this announcement.  We recognize and appreciate the role of Ministry of Infrastructure, and Ministry of Education and for making this modernization a priority in this community.  This is the beginning of a journey that will have a great final destination.  Thank you, and God bless."

"Pincher Creek is a very special place," said School Council President Dr. Gavin Parker.  "You see this every day in the wonderful people and culture that comes together to make this community our home.  We're a town that proudly celebrates our heritage, welcomes new ideas, and is nationally recognized."

"This year we celebrate the 110th anniversary of our school, making us one of the most historic schools in the province.  What makes this school so special are the students that are here today.  the reason that all these people are here today is because they believe in you."

Speaking in both French and English, Mitchell Zoratti was a effective student representative.  "Even while our building was beginning to deteriorate, our pride has never wavered," he said.  "This modernization will ensure that the legacy of Dragons successes and pride will continue for the students that walk our halls today, and for future generations."

Don Kuchison is in his third year as Principal at St. Michael's.  "I enjoy being the principal," he told me after the event.  "You go from being in a classroom and changing kids' lives to being able to do that with a whole community." Kuchison has been part of the St. Michael's community for total of thirteen years.

After the event I asked if in his opinion the announcement represented the best possible scenario for St. Mike's. "Yes, actually, it is," he replied.  "It allows us to keep some of the things that we're proud of, like the big gym.  In a new school we would have lost the big gym. Certain things we were able to keep in the building with the new design, and it will improve a lot of things in the building.  There is a tentative design."

According to Principal Kuchison, enrollment is currently on rise at St. Michael's. "In the building I can say on any given day there's probably about 390 students in here. We've seen a slow increase over the last three years.  We feel pretty good about it.  We just take each year as it comes.  Some years are better than others, so we're glad when we see enrollment increase."

"We've made three announcements yesterday, and this is our second today, and we're heading for Nobleford after this," said Ric McIvor after the event."  Earlier in the day he was at Magrath, and following the Pincher Creek announcement he was off to Nobleford.  Modernizing is on the agenda for the schools in both of those communities as well.

"This is really a representative of our government listening  to school boards and parents from around the province and community leaders about what is necessary to keep their children best prepared for the future."

"Of course it comes with an extensive evaluation process, and what your seeing now is the result of that.  Where we've realized what the school boards and communities have asked for on behalf of their children is essential and we're doing our best to provide that."

"For the work that's gone in to bringing us to this day, it is rapid.  As a government we've haven't wasted time, we've worked our people pretty hard to get around the province to find the areas of greatest need and greatest benefit are."

"By the reaction today, I'd say that the people in Pincher Creek agree with our decision."

"Even the size of the school was in consultation with the school board.  There's locally elected school trustees that understand the local schools' needs.  I think by listening to them, we put ourselves in the very best position to delver the right sized project at the right time,  hopefully with the best results."


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