Christmas came early for the Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) division this week when a letter from Infrastructure Minister Lyle Oberg finally confirmed that a new school will be built on the Lawrence Grassi Middle School site rather than a renovation of the existing school.

The letter, which arrived Wednesday (Dec. 21), commits the province to spending $12.43 million to build a new, 5,000-square-metre middle school in Canmore. Previously, the government had promised to $8.2 million to renovate the old building, parts of which are more than 70 years old.

Oberg had given verbal approval for the construction earlier this spring, but the board of trustees had been awaiting formal confirmation so they could move the project forward.

"It's a very happy day," said board chair Kim Bater.

"This will allow us to build a very efficient, economical building that really meets the needs of kids into the future, not a scaled-down building."

Bater said he believed the additional funding was approved as a gesture of thanks to the CRPS for its patience and accommodation for ensuring the sharing of the Lawrence Grassi school over the past four years with two different Catholic school divisions went seamlessly.

"We've spent the last number of years being very accommodating… we're been a fair player in the game. This is a chance for the government to say, 'You've cooperated with us, and we'll co-operate with you.'

"So now it's full steam ahead."

The funding gives LGMS space for 525 students, and the building will be designed in such a way as to allow it to grow or shrink, depending on the town's demographics.

The CRPS board, the school's parent council and superintendent Brian Callaghan met Tuesday night (Dec. 20) with the architect for the project. The final set of architectural drawings for the project are expected in early January for board approval, and the permanent foundations for the eight "pod" classrooms should be poured later this weekend. Bater said he hoped the classrooms would be moved on site during spring break.

The goal is to have construction fully underway by fall with the new school occupied by September 2007.

The new school will be built on the site of the present CRPS administration building, adjacent to the existing LGMS. When construction is complete, the old school will be torn down and the students moved into the new school. That way, disruption to students will be at a minimum and they will only be moved once.

The administrative offices will be moved to a site elsewhere on the property, then brought back to Seventh Avenue and permanently located somewhere on the site of the existing school building.

Meanwhile, Canmore council on Tuesday (Dec. 20) voted unanimously to discontinue discussions with the school board on the idea of the Town preserving and using parts of the old school, such as the large gymnasium.

Photo by:  Tom Barnick

Written by: Carol Picard – Editor and published in the .