'A new beginning': Modern home for Mackay Centre, Philip E. Layton Schools inaugurated in NDG

The ribbon was cut on a new $30-million, state-of-the-art school in Montreal’s west end Tuesday — a building that at last meets the needs of English-language students with disabilities.

Anglo children with disabilities now in a $30M, state-of-the-art building adapted to their needs

The new state-of-the-art, fully adapted building on Terrebonne Street in NDG is the only institution offering specialized educational and rehabilitative services to Anglophone Quebecers. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

The ribbon was cut on a new $30-million, state-of-the-art school in Montreal's west end Tuesday — the new home of the Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton Schools, a modern building that at last meets the needs of English-language students with disabilities.

The vast, provincially funded complex — it's the size of six hockey rinks — opened to students at the start of the school year.

It is the only school of its kind to offer specialized educational and rehabilitative services in English, serving students from all of Quebec's English-language school boards.

"When I came to the new building, I was so excited," said Jordan Joshua O'Rourke, 11, who loves how "big and bright" the building is, equipped with new technology.

It's a place, he said, where his fellow students get to have "more fun and more room."

The building has also impressed his classmate, Zoe Congonidis, 11.

Jordan Joshua O’Rourke, 11, and Zoe Congonidis, 11, are enjoying the new building that houses the Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton Schools. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

"These people did a really good job in making this lovely school after a long time of waiting," said Congonidis. She points to the floor-to-ceiling windows and modern furniture.

"We can say, 'Thank you, for everything.'"

The building housing the two schools is on Terrebonne Street, just east of Cavendish Boulevard in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, built on a disused soccer field owned  by the English Montreal School Board (EMSB).

Out of the old, into the new

The two schools were consolidated into one rented building on Décarie Boulevard about four years ago.

Although it had been retrofitted with some adaptations for children's special needs, school officials said, the small, aging structure was inadequate.

Construction of the new institution began in November 2016.

While there are a few finishing touches left to do in the coming month, the building opened in time for the start of the school year. Melanie Philip, who teaches Grade 5 and 6, says the transition has gone well.

Melanie Philip, who teaches Grades 5 and 6, says the transition to the school has gone well. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

"The atmosphere is just mind-blowing when it comes to seeing the joy in the kids' faces," she said.

Customized from the ground up

The new building accommodates about 170 students with developmental, intellectual, auditory or visual impairment, as well as students with communication disorders and other disabilities, the EMSB said in a news release.

The Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton Schools, which serves all of Quebec's English school boards, is the only institution of its kind to offer specialized educational and rehabilitative services to anglophone children with disabilities. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

It is fully accessible, with four elevators and a ramp that links both the main and second floors.

On the ground floor, there are 32 specialized classrooms and adapted washrooms. There is an enclosed courtyard and a 25-metre, indoor therapeutic swimming pool.

The second floor houses offices, medical equipment, therapy rooms, nursing stations, classrooms for the visually impaired and computer labs — even a balcony that allows visually impaired students to go out into the fresh air.

Outside, there are various play structures, a mini synthetic soccer field, a patio, tables and a playground adapted to the needs of children with motor, visual or hearing impairments.

'A new beginning'

For Joanne Charron, the colourful, accessorized and fully accessible building is a  "culmination of everything we worked for."

Charron, whose son graduated last year, chairs the Mackay Centre's governing board and serves as the EMSB's parent commissioner for special education services.

She got involved in lobbying the government for the new building, she said, not just for her son, "but for everyone like my son. To have a place to go, to learn and to grow."

For the students, she said, "It's a new beginning."

With files from Antoni Nerestant


Isaac Olson


Isaac Olson is a journalist with CBC Montreal. He worked largely as a newspaper reporter and photographer for 15 years before joining CBC in the spring of 2018.


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