Thunder Bay

New Matawa education centre on track to host September classes

It's going to be a very busy summer for Matawa First Nations, as they work on getting the former Grandview Lodge building in Thunder Bay, Ont., renovated and ready for classes this fall.

Matawa Learning Centre recently won $5,000 grant for 'good neighbour program' tied to new centre

Matawa CEO David Paul Achneepineskum says that student safety is the 'primary objective' of the school. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

It's going to be a very busy summer for Matawa First Nations, as the tribal council works on getting the former Grandview Lodge building in Thunder Bay, Ont., renovated and ready for high school classes this fall.

Everything is on track to welcome between 120 and 130 students to the new education centre this September said David Paul Achneepineskum, CEO of Matawa First Nations Management. 

"I'm just happy to say that the project is coming along as scheduled and we'll be looking forward to seeing the successful outcome," he said. 

Plenty of renovations have already been done on the building, which was gifted to Matawa by the city last year, so that it could be turned into a school and residence.

By the fall, the facility should be equipped with things like classrooms, a fitness centre, a science lab and an elder area, Achneepineskum said. 

Good neighbour program gets a boost

Efforts are also being made to ensure that the students at the centre have a strong relationship with residents in the area, he said, when they start taking classes in the new building.  

Students came up with the idea of offering to do yard work or snow clearing for residents in the area, he said, as a way to build connections.

The idea is to "just do whatever we can to be good neighbours," he said. 

Their "good neighbour program" recently won a $5,000 grant from the Tbaytel for good fund. That money will be used to buy equipment so that students can do the work, he said. 

They also plan to reach out to neighbours with a celebratory get-together in the fall.

"Probably we will start in September with a nice, good barbecue, invite the neighbours to come on over and start building that relationship."

Students to live and learn in centre in 2019

The centre will host just over 100 students at first, but in time about 200 students from Matawa communities should be learning there, Achneepineskum said. 

In about a year's time, the plan is to have the building ready for some students to begin living at the site as well, he said. The education centre is meant to be a safe home away from home for students who leave their communities to study in Thunder Bay.

The learning centre has received both federal and provincial support, he said, adding that they hope to sit down with the new provincial government soon.  "We hope to see them continue to support the project," he said.