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Sturgeon Comp slated for $35 million reno

SCHOOL ANNOUNCEMENT – Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson tells students at Sturgeon Composite High in Namao Friday that their school is getting $35 million for a complete renovation.

Sturgeon Composite High School students will have a practically brand new school by 2016 now that the province has announced a $35 million retrofit for their building.

Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson told about 850 cheering students at the school Friday that the province had committed to a $35 million modernization of their building.

The announcement was part of the province’s previously-announced plans to build 50 new schools and modernize 70 by 2016.

“It’s one of the largest, if not the largest, modernizations we’re doing,” Johnson said of the project’s price tag.

“You’re essentially going to have a brand new school when you come back in a few years.”

Johnson said in an interview that the project’s budget is still being finalized, but will work out to $30 to $35 million if the province does everything that school officials want to do.

Johnson said this renovation has been at the top of the Sturgeon School Division’s wish list for 12 years. The school itself dates back to 1977 and was last renovated in 1993.

“These guys have got an aging school that has never had provincial dollars,” Johnson said.

That and other factors pushed it onto the province’s short list for renovations.

There’s a lot that needs to be fixed and replaced at Sturgeon Composite, said principal David Amiot. Old concrete planters (former ashtrays from the school’s smoking-permitted days) waste space in the halls, while bulbs and ballasts break due to ancient wiring.

“Some classes are very cold and some are very warm,” he added.

Some classrooms get so hot during the summer months that staff have to haul in portable fans.

One of the biggest issues is the location of the main office.

“In most schools when you walk in, the administrative office is near the front entrance,” Amiot said.

At Sturgeon Composite, it’s actually the cosmetology lab that’s at the front – you have to walk down two corridors to reach the office, which is in the middle of the school and tough for guests to find.

The school plans to swap the positions of the front office and the cosmetology lab as part of the renovation, said board superintendent Michèle Dick. The lab, as well as several other career and technology studies labs, will also get expanded.

“We’re going to do a major interior demolition,” Dick continued.

This means knocking down walls to make hallways wider and more inviting. They’ll redo the roof, re-insulate the walls, replace the ventilation system, and take out eight old portables and replace them with four new ones.

“The boilers are going to be redone. Electrical is going to be redone. The fixtures are going to be redone. And the list goes on.”

The province is getting about 20,000 new students a year – equivalent to 40 new schools a year, said Johnson, when asked about the motive for the renovations.

Most of those students may be moving to cities, but Johnson said it’s vital to make sure rural schools aren’t left behind when it comes to investment.

“We’ve got to keep up the schools in rural Alberta.”

Staff might have to temporarily move students or close parts of the school during renovations, Amiot said. They might even have to hold classes at other schools.

“We’re going to have to get creative when it comes to scheduling.”

Amiot said the renovation should help students take ownership of their school.

“When kids get excited about a school that’s practically brand new, they take pride in that.”

The renovation should be wrapped up in time for the 2016 school year, Johnson said.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.