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    Categories: Education

Saint-themed solar school unveiled in Morinville

SUNNY SCHOOL — GSACRD board chair Serena Shaw explains the different features of the new St. Kateri Tekakwitha Academy at an open house last Thursday at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre. The school will feature four themed zones, each a different colour, that reference different parts of St. Kateri's life. It will also have what is likely the town's largest solar array on its roof.

Morinville’s next Catholic school will feature a longhouse, colour-coded pods and possibly the biggest solar array in town.

Morinville residents got their first look at plans for St. Kateri Tekakwitha Academy last week during an open house held Thursday at the Community Cultural Centre.

Announced in 2014, this 350-student K-to-6 Catholic school is set to go up in the Westwinds subdivision just north of the town’s Tim Hortons.

The school is set to open September 2019 with construction expected to start next spring, said Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools board chair Serena Shaw. The board is now asking residents to help set attendance boundaries for the school and determine what programs it will offer.

Saintly themes

The school’s design features many references to its namesake, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the patron saint of ecology and the first First Nations person from North America to be canonized as a saint.

“We really wanted to embrace the St. Kateri story within the school,” Shaw said, and the design firm Group2 Architecture came up with some exciting ways to do so.

The school consists of four pods built around a central corridor, said Rhonda Nixon, associate superintendent of learning services with Greater St. Albert Catholic. Each pod is a different colour and represents a different aspect of St. Kateri’s history.

“We have one section that’s blue,” Nixon said as an example, which refers to the blue blanket Kateri used to hide her smallpox scars, and another that is yellow, which refers to the yellow lilies that grew up around her birthplace and her nickname of “Lily of the Mohawks.” The green Turtle Clan zone is a nod to the clan Kateri was adopted into, while the beige/brown Basket Weave zone highlights her skill at weaving.

The central corridor, which runs the length of the school, will be painted to look like an Indigenous longhouse and act as a cultural zone for school assemblies, Shaw said.

Each pod will also be dedicated to a different division (e.g. Grades 4-6) and will have garage doors that can be opened to turn the pod into one giant room, Nixon said.

“The whole idea is that when you’re in that space, you can really get an intimate kind of family feel.”

Solar school

The school will also feature what is probably the biggest solar array in Morinville. At a projected 130 kilowatts in size, it has about 43 per cent of the generating capacity of the array atop the St. Albert Transit bus depot.

“It’s going to cover the entire roof,” Nixon said of the array, and will also include a separate solar “lean-to” shelter near the parking lot.

Nixon said the system is projected to be net-positive in terms of electricity, meaning that it will generate more power than the school consumes. Project architect Darlene Cadman cautioned that while the system will likely be net-positive on occasion, she’d want to see the its real-life performance before she declared it net-positive over the course of a year.

Students at the school will learn how solar panels work and will be able to track the energy production of the panels on each pod, Nixon said. The solar lean-to will feature educational signs on solar energy for the public.

This solar array will help teach kids about climate change and also links in with Catholic principles of giving back to others, Nixon said.

“We need to help kids understand how they can do something at a young age.”

Shaw said the board was holding an online survey on the school’s boundaries and programs until Dec. 14. The board plans to collect public comments on the school until about February and to present options next March.

Check out goo.gl/qcyTCk for a link to the survey and more information on the school.

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.