An expansion and major renovation of Ben Calf Robe Catholic Elementary-Junior High is on the Edmonton Catholic Schools to-do list, which would address its growing enrolment of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.
Originally built in 1950, Ben Calf Robe School is running over capacity. The school has submitted a request to the provincial government for funding for the estimated $18 million project, which would increase the school’s capacity and allowing 200 more students to attend.
“Student enrolment has increased by 58% in the last five years,” explains Joan Carr, Superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools. “We expect enrolment to continue to grow as Edmonton has one of Canada’s largest and fastest growing First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations.”
The proposed changes would integrate many opportunities for the First Nations, Métis and Inuit community to use the space. The plans would see a large, open area created with a south wall enclosed in glass that would allow sacred medicines to be grown year round. This same area would have space for the Elders to meet and have a place of welcome. It would have a natural amphitheatre effect that would allow for assemblies, presentations and a ‘heart/drumbeat’ or gathering place for the school.
“The morning drum song could be played from this space and evidence of the language and cultural program would be incorporated,” says Carr. “For example, one of the most sacred spaces is the area directly beneath the poles of a tipi. It would be important to create the impression that the students are being sheltered under this sacred space.”
Another important area to improve upon would be space to allow students to participate in hands-on learning such as beading, regalia making, tanning hides, working with birch and other woods.
Carr says it’s important to include this programming for the school community.
“For many of our students, we are restoring the language and culture that has been lost in their homes. Grandparents express gratitude for teaching their grandchildren the traditions or ‘old ways’,” she says. “We also are experiencing second-generation families; that is, some of our current parents were former students here and they want for their children what they received here. We also see former students at cultural events outside of the school. Older students in our school lead daily smudge as well as drumming, singing and dancing.”
Some of the functional and mechanical renovation plans would include adding an ancillary gymnasium, adding 200 student spaces, upgrading the mechanical systems with enhanced ventilation; renovating the Career and Technology Foundations labs, upgrading the lighting, ceilings, all washrooms, flooring, painting and lockers as well as incorporating Wi-Fi access.
The parents within the school community have been active in the planning phase, as they have contributed their ideas and feedback.
“The School Council is actively involved with the school and there will often be anywhere from five to 20 parents in attendance at their meetings. Their input is sought and valued and would need to be consulted with these plans,” she says. “An extensive community consultation would occur during the design stage of the modernization and addition.”