Though the concept drawings were shown during the presentation, the province wanted to wait until the project went to tender before releasing them to the media. The Advance will run a follow-up article once they are made available. However a basic description of the school design was not an issue.
The new school incorporates much of the former Queens Memorial Arena foot-print into the building. The shell of the building will be mostly deconstructed, slated to start this summer. What will remain are the foundation, slab and framing.
A traditional school is set up with hallways and classrooms lined up on each side. The new school will have the classrooms lining the edge of the building, with the centre set up in an open courtyard style.
Off the main building into where the soccer field is right now will be a connecting building to the new gymnasium. The connecting building will house administration, a music room and the mechanical room for the building.
The buses will enter at the entrance closest to Old Bridge Street, and drive into a loop in front of the gym where students will be picked up and dropped off.
The building will meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, up to 50 per cent better than the standard building codes. LEED requires buildings to be built in a more environmentally friendly way with construction methods and materials. Some examples are low VOC paint and building materials, bringing in more natural light to the finished building, and energy efficient heating.
The school will use a mix of sources to heat the building. A solar wall will preheat the air coming in to the building through the air exchangers, and use a high efficiency pellet stove and oil heat to finish the rest of the heating needs.
Peter Connor, principal architect with Connor architects & planners and lead architect of the new school, says reusing the arena is very exciting. In fact, he says it’s an architects dream.
He says there is much more they can do with the open space. Typical buildings use corridor walls as load bearing supports, however the arena is well supported already with a vast open space. Connors adds the open space makes it much easier to adapt the building to the style of learning the school is moving towards.
“It’s the best opportunity I’ve ever seen,” he says.
In financial terms, it does not mean the province is cutting back on funding. Rather the funds go back into the rest of the school to be used in other areas.
“We get way more utility and way more flexibility,” he says.
An interesting note is the architectural module class at the junior high also designed a new school quite similar to what the architects came up with.
Over the course of the module, the architects visited the school to teach the students the basics of design, scale, and what they might need to consider. At the same time the architects used the students as a sounding board for their ideas as well.
“On their own, they came to some of the same conclusions that we came to. We don’t have to convince those kids of the value of space planning or organization, because they’ve got it,” says Connors.
A new building is a good thing, however it’s what the teachers and students will be able to do with the school that is more important.
South Queens Junior High School principal Leo Campbell says this mix of traditional learning and project based/inquiry based learning is an exciting time for the education system.
“We’re on the cusp of something fantastic”
Campbell says the school is being built on the philosophy to fit the student’s needs, not for the students to fit the school.
“They’re going to have technology to better prepare them for the 21st century. Better than Nova Scotia, Canada, and possibly North America.”
It's the best opportunity I've ever seen. - Peter Connor, principal architect with Connor Architects & Planners and lead architect of the new school
21st century learning
“The space is going to be really transformed into a space to provide 21st century (learning),” says Peter Howitt, regional director of facilities management with the Nova Scotia Department of Education.
While traditional learning is still part of the design, the idea is to also bring a space that engages students at a deeper level. In the courtyard space, there is room for individuals to go study or work, places for small groups to meet and places that teachers can use for a full class.
Classrooms have changed little in the past century, but teaching methods have changed a lot. One example close by of a non-traditional classroom setting is at Dalhousie University. A few of their rooms were redesigned, to include barstool style seating, seating at tables, “campfire” style seating and traditional desks. Though there was some initial resistance, now they are the most sought after classrooms.
The notion of students sitting still in rows is disappearing. It is recognized now some students work better in solitude, and others by moving around.
Howitt compared it to people in the meeting room that night as well, some were sitting down, some were standing up, and some were a little fidgety.
Campbell says teachers don’t like to kick students out of classroom just because they can’t sit still. For lack of a better term, he calls it “silly.”
“So what if a kid needs to work standing up? The main goal is he or she is engaged, they are doing their work and they’re in class where they are learning,” he says.
What happens when they leave?
Questions were raised about what happens when the students leave the middle school to senior high, which will not be changed to the new method.
Campbell says though there is a lot of change happening, none of the core courses are going anywhere. They will still have English, Math, Social Studies, Science and French as required courses.
He says students will come to the senior high better engaged in learning, and will take what they learned at the middle school.
“They’ll self stream themselves into what their interests are,” he says.
Though the type of learning style is new for this province, it is not an untested style. When the teachers were first exposed to project and inquiry based learning, a teacher from Calgary came down to talk about their success. The question of what happens to students after they leave the middle school came up.
The data coming out of middle schools that have switched to this method show students do quite a bit better on average, and it continues as they move on in their education.
Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, superintendent of the South Shore Regional School Board, says there has been a lot of focus on high school level with programs like options and opportunities, math programs and more. Those programs are aimed at student engagement as well.
“The area where we’ve had the lowest regimented programming has been at the (middle school) level,” she says.
However the middle school level is where problems show up first.
“The engagement of students right across the country post Grade 6 drops right off.”
With the new school and new model of learning, they hope to tackle that problem head on.