For the past school year from across the street, students and staff at Yarmouth Central School have watched their new elementary school take shape.
In September students will be attending classes at the new Yarmouth Elementary School and they’re in for new changes, not just from a physical standpoint but also a learning one.
A recurring theme in the new school – which has been seen in other new school construction in the province – is common and open areas to facilitate learning in new ways.
“The main feature and core philosophy of the Yarmouth Elementary School is the integration of a variety of space types, both open and enclosed, throughout the building where students collaborate, work and thrive,” reads a description. “Options for students and teachers are numerous.”
The new school, located at the corner of Parade and Brunswick streets, replaces Yarmouth Central School, which in September 2016 had also welcomed students from the former South Centennial School after that school closed.
The student population that will move into the new school is approximately 300 students.
As you enter the main doors of the school – and as your reflect on how different this is from Central and South Centennial schools – you are greeted by a large, common area being called the ‘Da Vinci Studio.’ The large, open space incorporates several features, including a large stage that fronts onto this space (and also the gymnasium), as well as another smaller stage. This will also be the cafeteria area. The stage levels allow for small and large presentations and assemblies, we well as presenting options for performance and learning spaces for students.
There is also an ‘academic stair’ incorporated into the design of the space.
“This is the first school like this designed in the province where this kind of space is available for assemblies, presentations and eating and it also opens up to the gym,” says Yarmouth MLA and Education Minister Churchill. The academic stair is aimed at being a place for students to use, whether it be to study, to socialize, eat their meals, etc. It can also become seating for assemblies, concerts and other presentations. There are also power outlets incorporated into the space. "That is a first in the province, this design," says Churchill.
Scott Cunning, contract administrator with the A49 architecture firm that has designed the school with input from the local school steering group, is asked about the advantages of the open and common areas of the school. He lists some as “group learning, learning from others. It’s a team atmosphere. They’re also able to go out and learn in their own in places too.”
Classrooms are located on the ground and upper level. (There is an elevator in the school, which is one of many accessibility features.) The classrooms are bright with lots of natural light.
There is a learning centre for students that includes various appliances such as stoves, fridges, washers, dryers, etc. where learning about practical life’s needs will take place.
There are a few sitting nooks tucked into some areas that students can use to study in, read or just hang out. There is also outdoor seating in a patio area on the Grand Street side of the building.
On the main floor of the school the library is part of a common area outside of the classrooms. There are no walls enclosing the library, meaning students don’t have to enter a door to get inside. The thought process is the space, because of its accessibility and openness, will get used more by students. Churchill says in other schools in the province where this design has been used this has been the case.
“Kids are actively using it,” he says.
The school has co-ed student washrooms that have been designed to maximize privacy. The washrooms consist of individual floor to ceiling stalls with doors that extend to the floor, meaning there are no gaps at the bottom of the doors, nor are there gaps on their sides. There are no urinals in the washrooms.
In the early learning centre/pre-primary classrooms there is one bathroom containing four toilet seats, but during a tour of the school on June 18 there were no stalls or privacy dividers for the four toilet seats. That did surprise Churchill and this newspaper, and did generate some discussion with those involved in the construction of the school. Churchill said he would look into that further.
There are two classroom spaces in the early learning portion of the school, which is where the pre-primary students will be located. Enrollment for pre-primary in the fall sits at 42 students. The pre-primary area is located in its own wing of the school and will also have an early learning play area separate from the main playground area that will be used by the rest of the students.
The play areas are being designed to incorporate natural play elements says Harold Foley, project manager with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.. The main playground will be located on the side of the property closest to the former Yarmouth high school.
The gymnasium of the former Yarmouth Junior High School has been incorporated, quite seamlessly, into the design of the new school.
There is a bus loop off of Parade Street. The public entrance for vehicles onto the school property is from Brunswick Street. There is a drop off/pick up loop at the front of the school.
Asked if there is concern over whether things may get congested on Brunswick Street in the afternoons if many parents are picking up their children (this had been an ongoing concern afterschool on Collins Street for many years) those involved with the construction of the school say they’re hoping that won’t be the case, adding there would have been traffic studies conducted.
Substantial completion of the school is targeted for July 26.
“The upper floor classrooms are complete and ready to turn over. We’re working on the first floor now,” says Cunning. “Site work is ongoing, paving is getting underway and landscaping.”
The construction tender went to Avondale Construction, whose bid came in at $14,160,949.
Avondale site supervisor Clay Tanner says Graves Electrical of Yarmouth has the sub-contract for the mechanical, electrical work, and plumbing work and that they’ve also contracted out to other local contractors for heating, ventilation, etc.
The construction has created employment for many.
“Average day there is about 60 guys on site but it’s different guys, so there’s probably been over 200 unique trades people,” Tanner says. “It’s been a pretty smooth project. The local people have been great to work with.”
The school has been designed to meet environmental and efficiency LEED standards, which not only includes the design and future operation of the school, but also during the construction phase during which Tanner says 75 per cent of construction waste has to be recycled.
He says the construction has remained on schedule and on budget.
Indoor air quality is tested on a weekly basis and the products used in the design of the school come from certified sustainable forestry practices. A pellet boiler, water purification system, etc. make up the mechanical side of things.
Several security features have also been incorporated to control access to the school by visitors during instructional times, along with lockdown features should they be required.
The name of the school – Yarmouth Elementary School – was decided on back in 2017. Many names were suggested by students – Unicorn Magic, Yarmouth Panda Elementary School and Mr. Purdy’s School didn’t make the cut.
The opening of a new school is always bittersweet in that while there is excitement over something new, it also represents the closure of a school that has been part of the community for many decades. The final Grade 6 graduation from Central School is scheduled for June 27 at 6 p.m. Weather permitting, the event will be held outdoors.
When schools close the buildings are diverted back to the municipal units in which they are housed, so Central School will go to the Town of Yarmouth. It’s up to the municipal units on the receiving end of the schools to maintain the buildings, sell them or find new uses for them.
As for the new school, Churchill – speaking as the education minister and local MLA says – “I’m really excited. It’s a brand-new learning space with new learning designs, open common learning areas and I think it’s going to really serve the kids of this community well.”