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Camilla students get ready for brand new school

Features solar power, vacuum wall, Indigenous foyer

Camilla School students will head back to class next month in a brand-new building – one that features solar panels, a vacuum-powered wall, and a unique tribute to their old school. 

Camilla School students got a virtual tour of their new school building March 18 as crews put the finishing touches on it. The Gazette did a walk-through of the facility with Sturgeon Public School authorities that same day.  

While Camilla School dates back to about 1898, the current school building in Rivière Qui Barre was built in 1954 and has undergone several renovations and expansions, said principal Dan Stephen.  

It’s definitely showing its age, having structural, settling and erosion issues and needing new boilers and other systems, said Sturgeon Public facilities director Denis Henderson.  

A 2017 report by Sturgeon Public said the school had rotted-out floors, a parking lot that flooded each spring, and doors, wires, lights, windows, sidewalks, and a ventilation system in need of replacement. The report said the school’s many structural issues posed an “extreme safety concern,” and noted that it had already suffered a partial roof and wall collapse in 2015. 

The province announced a replacement school in March 2017. Work on it started in August 2019.  

Green and sunny 

The new Camilla is a bit bigger than the old one and could host up to 600 K-to-9 students, Stephen said. 

It’s also radically different from the old one. Whereas the old school was basically a white house with a brick annex, the new one is sort of a polygonal space-base that is all angles and glass with a grey roof and copper highlights. The futuristic look continues inside with bold swatches of colour, whimsically shaped seats and cushions, high ceilings, and LED light rings that reflected off the polished concrete floor. 

The light rings were meant to invoke the Indigenous concept of learning circles, explained Sturgeon Public board chair Terry Jewell. Indigenous culture also influenced the circular assembly area in the school’s lobby, which featured the word “Welcome” in English, French, Cree and Michif on its walls. 

Built to a LEED Silver standard, the new school features a number of eco-friendly features such as giant windows for natural light and a living wall in the front lobby, which Stephen said would both clean the air and teach students about plants. Flatscreen monitors around the school displayed stats from the 400-odd solar modules on the roof, which collectively produced about 128 megawatt-hours of electricity a year – enough to prevent 90.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, which the US EPA reports was equivalent to what was produced by about 20 cars in a year.  

Stephen said students seemed to love the school’s common areas and gym. Unlike the current gym, the new one features bleachers, the school logo, a video wall, a divider curtain and enough vertical space for a volleyball game.  

Also impressive is the sizeable makerspace room, which can split itself in two using a giant whiteboard wall that unfolds from the ceiling. Stephen said the wall actually vacuum-seals itself when deployed to provide sound insulation. 

History lives on

At the suggestion of students, Stephen said the school features a tribute to its predecessor in the form of a replica of the front entrance to Camilla School as it appeared back in the 1950s. The cottage-sized structure served as a breakout room and storage space, and sported some of the school’s original bricks and “CAMILLA SCHOOL” letters.  

Camilla School students are getting an extra-long Spring Break from March 22 to April 5 to give crews time to move furniture over to the new school. The new school opens for students April 6. 

Stephen said the school’s second playground is expected to open in May, with demolition of the old school scheduled to start later this year. 

Not all of the old school would face the wrecking ball. Jewell said four classrooms and the gym were handed over to the RQB Ag Society (which runs the arena attached to the school) as part of a land transfer deal. 

RQB Ag Society president Shawn Flynn said the society hoped to use the old school to host weddings and other community events. Watching the new school go up had been an exciting time for everyone in Rivière Qui Barre, as it was one of the centrepieces of the community. 

“Having an A-1 kind of school will really put us on the map,” he said. 

Stephen said the school hopes to host a grand opening in September once pandemic restrictions on gatherings lift.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: 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.
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