By Tina Comeau
Although students walked through the doors for the start of classes in September, the official opening of the Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School on Forest Street took place on Monday, Dec. 17. Education Minister Ramona Jennex spoke to students, staff and visitors saying the facility was constructed to stand the test of time and to offer students the education they’ll need to prepare them for life beyond high school, including when they trade in textbooks for jobs.
“Your principal made a comment to me as I was coming in about Yarmouth, and I agree with him 100 per cent, you do feel the warmth and a real sense of community when you’re coming into this school,” said Jennex.
“Schools play a very important role in every community,” she added. “They are not only centres for learning, as everyone here knows they are also centres for the community to gather.”
This school, built to replace the one on Parade Street, houses around 950 students in Grades 9 to 12. It includes 29 classrooms, dedicated science labs, an art room, a raised drama room and a cafeteria-auditorium space. The grounds feature a basketball court and a soccer field, although the soccer field can’t yet be used.
The school is also the first in the province to incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold standards, says the Department of Education. Environmentally-friendly design elements were incorporated into the design and construction of the $20-million school, which, Jennex noted, includes increased use of daylight for illumination inside the building and a wood-pellet burner system to help heat the school.
"The new school is a huge improvement over where we were before. It's bigger, brighter and there are more places to play sports, study or just hang out," said Kallie Hood, co-president of the school's student council.
Co-president Allie Berry spoke about what a difference the school makes in the lives of students, compared to the former high school.
“Before this school was built, we were in a school that was built for an old era of learning. The classrooms were small, the paint was looking old and there wasn’t as much technology compared to the building we are in now,” said Berry.
Acting school principal Don Berry said the school is a significant improvement over the old school.
Still, while the official opening of the school was a celebration of the facility, there are issues being worked out.
One deals with concerns over air quality. The board has conducted air quality tests given that it has fielded concerns about the air quality of the building from some staff and parents. All of the tests have yielded results that show the air quality is within normal limits, but the board and the province will be conducting more tests.
“This is a brand new building and as you know sometimes brand new buildings come with a few little hiccups that need to be ironed out,” said Jennex when asked about the testing. “There was a concern about air quality and there’s been a number of air quality tests and they’ve all come back as showing there is no problem with the air quality, but that’s not to say that we’re going to stop there. If people are still feeling that there’s problems there is going to be further investigation and I will be speaking to the board about that.”
Another issue concerns the gymnasium. Since the school has opened the student population as a whole cannot be in the gymnasium all at the same time because the gym does not have the proper amount of exit doors to address the occupant load when all students are present.
Therefore what happens is one or two grade levels sit in the cafeteria and watch presentations or ceremonies live on video, while the other grade levels are in the gym. During the Dec. 17 official opening it was the Grade 10 students who were in the cafeteria.
In his remarks Berry said they hope to have this situation rectified soon so that all students can be in the gym at the same time.
The Tri-County Regional School Board’s director of operations Steve Stoddard says the board has also raised this issue as part of a list of deficiencies that need to be addressed with the opening of the school.
“There needs to be another set of exit doors,” says Stoddard. “(The gym) was designed for 950 but somewhere along the plans they missed another set of exit doors.”