$23M announced to build new K-12 school in Atikokan, Ont.
New school will replace existing public elementary, high schools; expected to open in Sept., 2020
The Ontario government has announced over $23 million in funding to the Rainy River District School Board for a new school, which will combine Atikokan's existing public elementary and high schools under one roof.
Wednesday's announcement by Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro secures funding for an initiative that board officials have been pondering for at least two-and-a-half years.
"It's so exciting, we're so pleased," Heather Campbell, the board's director of education, told CBC News of the money to consolidate North Star Community School and Atikokan High School. "We have a declining enrolment, as do many school boards across Ontario and certainly, looking at ... our aging facilities, one in particular, Atikokan High School, has some significant renewal and repair needed."
The new school is expected to be open by September, 2020, Campbell said, adding that the board will now turn to the design and construction phase alongside community stakeholders. Once that happens, she said the board can go through the process of declaring the existing North Star school building surplus, making it available to be repurposed by another organization.
"It's an exciting opportunity, not just for the students and for the staff but it also presents energy efficiencies," she said. "As well it will provide a state-of-the-art enhanced learning environment for students today and into the future."
The cost of the required repairs to Atikokan's two existing public school buildings actually exceeds the price tag of the new building, Campbell said. Both Atikokan High School and North Star Community School were built in 1956, she said, with the high school undergoing a number of expansions between the late 50s and the mid-80s. The elementary school building was last refurbished and expanded in 1998.
Neither school is close to capacity, she said, adding that there are about 160 students at the high school, which was designed to accommodate up to 800.
Turning to a K-12 model is not without precedent in the Rainy River board. Trustees already voted for a similar amalgamation in the Town of Rainy River.
In Atikokan, Campbell said the move is projected to save over $100,000 annually on utilities, maintenance and cleaning supplies alone.
"We all knew and the board of trustees were really good about looking ahead and seeing that this is going to be something of need in the future," she said.
The new building will also include 49 licensed child care spaces and a new child and family room, according to the provincial funding announcement.