By George Brown
Patience was a virtue among school trustees and students in Alberta’s booming economy. But the wait for government approval to modernize Ponoka Composite High School (PCHS) is finally over.
Wolf Creek Public Schools was notified last week its proposal to use $11.1 million of capital reserve funds to undertake phase 1 of the long-overdue PCHS modernization was approved.
“We’ve had this kind of a plan in front of the ministry of education for probably eight or nine years,” said Larry Jacobs, superintendent of schools.
Jacobs explained the government earmarked $9 million in 2000 for the complete modernization of the high school and then “the economy boomed and $9 million would not even come close to finishing the modernization.”
After a few years of being passed over for more funding, Jacobs said the school board proposed to the minister that the modernization be done in two phases; the first phase of the total $18 million project will cost $11.1 million.
“With the downturn in the economy it’s great for modernizations because you can get crews in at a reduced cost but at the same time the province doesn’t have the money to fund these things,” said Jacobs.
Architects will be hired right away to design the project with the intention of putting the project out to tender next spring. Construction should start next summer once classes are dismissed.
“I’m pretty excited because it’s been a long time coming,” said board chair Lorrie Jess, Ponoka’s trustee. “We’ve been working on this for years. “Eleven million dollars won’t do the entire comp but it’s a start.”
Wolf Creek Public Schools just cleared the $20 million Lacombe Composite High School modernization off its books this spring. The high schools in Ponoka and Lacombe were both centennial projects, built in 1967.
“It’s nice that it’s finally Ponoka’s turn,” Jess said.
PCHS is an old, solid structure but water fountains leak and tiles are falling off the roof, Jess said. “It’s tired and run down. It’s gloomy. It’s not a great learning environment.”
Jacobs said the modernization project will likely involve overhauling the schools aging mechanical systems, such as heating, electrical and air exchange.
“Anytime you do a major overhaul of an old building like that one they usually start that sort of infrastructure is one of the first things done.”
The mechanical systems will probably be relocated to a central location now occupied by the stage in the gymnasium. The gym would also be expanded.
“It’s a little bit old and a little bit undersized for the activities that go on there,” Jacobs said. “Part of the modernization will give us a bigger footprint in the gymnasium and give us more change facilities.”
“I graduated from Ponoka Comp in 1978,” Jess said. “I was big into sports so I spent many, many hours in that gym. Nothing has changed in there.”
Jacobs said most new schools don’t have a stage in the gym so PCHS might have a separate small theatre room that could also be used for teaching. Phase 1 might also include upgrades to cafeteria and food preparation areas and improve career and Technology Studies areas.
“Right now we’re somewhat limited at Ponoka Comp in terms of the size of the CTS area …down the road we could have a greater capacity to meet students’ needs.
“Because we’re not sure how far $11 million is going to go in today’s economy, it’s kind of a guess. It could do a lot more than we anticipate.”
Jacobs said a public meeting will be held to present the school board’s vision and engage stakeholders in the process.