The district school board’s finance committee has recommended building a new K-12 school at the site of Atikokan High School.
The process would begin with the formation of an accommodation review committee, followed by consultation meetings, and a special full board meeting for delegations on the issue. (These meetings would all be held in Atikokan.) This would lead to a board decision on whether to proceed, a decision that could be made as soon as mid- to late-September.
At that point, the Ministry of Education would need to approve consolidation of the two schools, and the necessary dollars for construction, said Mike Lewis, Atikokan’s trustee on the Rainy River DSB. (He is vice-chair of the board and a member of its finance committee.)
How long it will take to get Ministry approval is unknown.
The early estimate puts the cost of the new facility at just over $20 million; only Grayson Hall (with the attached dressing and fitness rooms) and the Outers building would be saved from the existing facility.
While that is a lot of money, it is not as much as it will cost to properly maintain AHS and North Star over the next five years (2017-21). The board estimates it will require almost $26 million for capital renewal of the two schools. Most of that will be on the 61-year-old AHS, with mechanical and electrical upgrades (almost $11 million) making up the biggest portion.
Consolidating the schools will also reduce operational costs. Currently, it costs about $4.5 million to operate the two schools; one K-12 school would cost $3.9 million per year to operate. The savings would come in plant operations (utilities, maintenance costs and staff; they will be reduced almost $360,000), office operations ($140,000), and classroom staffing ($120,000).
The board sites a range of day-to-day benefits for students, parents, and the town if the two schools consolidate. These include:
- greater flexibility in elementary programming, specifically in specialized areas of French as a second language and special education;
- support for school leadership in having all students and staff within one building;
- increased networking and collaboration for staff from Kindergarten to Grade 12;
- opportunities for student mentoring and leadership;
- support for school council membership and overall parent engagement;
- enhanced school design with greater accessibility, improved air quality, lighting and acoustics, improved security, adaptability for present and future technologies;
- enhanced ground and landscaping to improve traffic flow and to ensure pedestrian safety, with the possibility of an enlarged sports field for school and community use.
(See page six for a fuller treatment of these potential benefits of a consolidated school.)
The board explored five different ways of consolidating the schools, in consultation with the Toronto architectural firm of Brook McIlroy:
AHS 1. Use the existing AHS building, retaining the surplus space. Facilities would be upgraded for elementary needs and accessibility; Kindergarten classrooms would be added on.
AHS 2. Use much of the existing AHS building, demolishing some of the surplus space. Facilities would be upgraded for elementary program needs and accessibility; Kindergarten classrooms would be added on.
AHS 3. Demolish most of the existing AHS (saving the Grayson Hall addition and the Outers building, the two newest parts of the 61-year-old school) and build a new K-12 school. This is the option preferred by the school board’s finance committee.
NSCS 1. Add a wing to North Star School with labs (science, food, and outdoors labs, wood and auto shops) and a high school gym. The existing primary wing of North Star would be converted to six classrooms for grades 7 to 12, plus a computer lab and art and music rooms that could be shared with the elementary level. Two of the classrooms in the other wing would be converted for Kindergarten use; that wing would also house grade one to six classrooms. Under this scenario, AHS would be demolished, with Grayson Hall preserved for community use. This is the option recommended by the architects.
NSCS 2. Do a partial consolidation, preserving the shop wing, Grayson Hall, and Outers at the AHS site, with the rest of high school programming moved to North Star. The existing primary wing at that school would house Kindergarten to grade five classes; the other wing’s eight classrooms would handle grade six to twelve classes and a computer lab. High school students would have to move between sites under this scenario.
If the board adopts the recommendation of the finance committee, then it would likely start planning meetings with its community partners here (April 12 to 26) and form an accommodation review committee (April 26 to May 17). That committee would host a community consultation here in mid-May. A final administration report and recommendation would go to the board June 2, and the board would hold a special meeting, in Atikokan, to hear from anyone who wanted to make a presentation on the issue (June 19).
The board would make its final decision at a meeting here in late September, and then start applying to the province for approval of its plans, and the necessary funding.
The concept drawing for a new K-12 school at the AHS site prepared by architects Brook McIlroy. The architect notes this is one possible configuration used to illustrate a new build on the AHS site. Other configurations would need to be explored if the Rainy River DSB chooses to pursue this option. A larger or smaller building program may require a different configuration.