LETHBRIDGE – The gym, filled with new-building smell, was filled with visitors and dignitaries from the school district and three levels of government, including three sitting senators.
But it was the students of the brand-new Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School who stole the show, all clad in red as they were piped into the gymnasium for the opening ceremony Friday, Sept. 14. They roared as a video unveiled their new school nickname and mascot, the Fairbairn Falcons. And they counted down and cheered as the ribbon was cut.
WATCH: Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School officially opens
“I think before I came here, that it was just kind of a building with moving walls – a beautiful building with moving walls,” Clark Bosch, board chair of the Lethbridge School District No. 51, said. “Beautiful outdoor areas for the kids to play. But it has taken on a whole new personality in the last couple of weeks since the arrival of the students.”
Outside the gym was a display of artifacts donated by the retired Sen. Fairbairn, who has been diagnosed with dementia and was unable to attend the ceremony. The crowd was told of a visit by the school’s principal and the board chair to Fairbairn’s home, and that she seemed to understand something special was happening.
Prior to being named to the Senate, Lethbridge-born Fairbairn worked as a journalist on Parliament Hill and was a legislative assistant to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. She was the first woman to be named Government Leader in the Senate.
The school named after Fairbairn is at 301 Rocky Mountain Blvd. on the western edge of Lethbridge, the second middle school on the west side. With a price tag of $23.9 million, it took two and a half years to build the 70,000 sq. ft. school.
Features include a three-station gym similar in size to Chinook High School’s gym, a central gathering space, learning commons, and clusters or “pods” of classrooms with sliding glass partitions.
“It’s built around learning and the way that we are finding out better ways to teach, better ways of learning,” Bosch said. “This building is designed to incorporate all the new teaching styles, research teaching styles, and the gathering of groups, team teaching of groups. It’s going to be a fantastic school.”
The latest information technology is also incorporated into the school, along with energy-efficient lighting and heating. The building is designed to be certified LEED Silver.
Provincial education minister David Eggen said the school’s opening shows a sense of optimism, and economic and community strength in Lethbridge. Thirty-seven new and modernized schools are opening around the province this year.
“It’s important when you’re looking at developing economy and community at the same time, that you build the infrastructure that you need and put the teachers in there and the support staff and so forth,” Eggen said. “You can’t build a great province and a great place and a great economy without all of these things in place.”
The school is designed to make use of portable modular classrooms. Ten are already in place, to accommodate enrollment of 750; the core capacity is 500.
“Some people might say we built a school that’s not big enough,” Bosch said. “We built a beautiful school; we may need to add some classrooms. But what you see here is the result of the fact that we didn’t build a school for 900 kids originally. It’s a great idea, I think.”
The City of Lethbridge’s contribution was also highlighted. Under a collaboration that dates back to the 1950s, the city helped provide the adjacent park. It includes two soccer fields, a softball diamond, and basketball courts. The province contributed $250,000 for playground equipment.
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