Public-private partnership school set to be state-of-the-art

By Anna-Grae York

EDMONTON — A new school in the far west end of Edmonton that is part of a public-private partnership arrangement will be opening this upcoming school year.

Bessie Nichols School, located at 121 Hemingway Rd., will teach kindergarten to Grade 9 and is one of three schools in Edmonton being built through the Alberta Schools Alternative Procurement Project by the Build to Learn partnership.

Build to Learn is a public-private partnership that will take responsibility for the design, construction, financing and 30-year maintenance of schools, while ownership of the schools will still be with Edmonton Public Schools. Essentially, the school district will have a lease on the building for 30 years.

“All of the kindergarten to Grade 9 schools will be built in the exact same manner with the same design,” said Ward E trustee Heather MacKenzie. “They’re all going to be neighborhood schools, so they’re not going to be alternative schools.”

Alternative schools are ones such as downtown’s Victoria School of the Arts, which offers programming that is dedicated to education in fine arts such as drama, dance, visual art and music. Any child from Edmonton can be enrolled at Victoria School, but students at Bessie Nichols will have to reside in the school’s designated attendance areas: the Hamptons, Glastonbury or Granville.

These areas are full of young families to populate Bessie Nichols. The 2006 census showed that 67 per cent of households in the Hamptons area had children still living at home.

Bessie Nichols School, named for the first female trustee on the Edmonton Public School Board, will be a state-of-the-art facility, said Pat Davidson, current principal of Minchau Elementary School and future principal of Bessie Nichols.

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Bessie Nichols School, scheduled to open for classes in September, is being built under the Build to Learn partnership which will take responsibility for the design, construction, financing, and 30-year maintenance of school. Photograph by Anna-Grae York.

“We have wireless throughout the school and will have a number of portable laptop labs that teachers will be able to roll into their classrooms,” said the principal of 12 years. “We will also have the Bessie Nichols Network, or BNN, a broadcasting studio to broadcast our announcements live to each classroom Smartboard each morning.”

Bessie Nichols will also be part of the school district’s Portal Project, an online account that each student and staff member will have access to that will allow them to access their learning materials any time, anywhere and from any device.

“This is very exciting work,” said Davidson.

Additional features include:
• FM systems in every classroom
• Smartboard and document cameras in each classroom
• Access to digital video and still cameras

The school’s construction is nearly complete and needs just a few finishing touches, said Davidson.

“I went for a tour last week and the building is absolutely gorgeous,” she said.

Although one may think that the opening of these new, state-of-the-art schools may increase the risk of older, less technological schools being shut down, trustee MacKenzie said that simply won’t be an issue — at least until next November.

“In the November 2010 school year we passed a motion stating that until November 2012 no schools will be considered for closure,” she said.

The Alberta Schools Alternative Procurement built 18 schools in the Calgary and Edmonton areas in 2010, and is now working on building 14 new schools in the same areas — 10 of which will be elementary and middle schools like Bessie Nichols, and four of which will be high schools.

Michael Strembitsky School in Ellerslie, and Major-General Griesbach School in Griesbach are the other two schools in Edmonton being built by the Build to Learn partnership.

The Bessie Nichols’ open house will be held on Feb. 23 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at S. Bruce Smith School at 5545 184 St.