Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 10, 2003
School's conversion works fine
Edson Catholic new junior/senior high school wants more students
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Word that Edson was getting another Catholic school wasn't exactly news to Patrick Fogarty.
But what shocked the Holy Redeemer Catholic School principal was that it was coming in the form of a former public junior high school and he had only four months to convert it.
"And we didn't get the keys to the building until Aug. 1," said Fogarty.
"To be perfectly honest, we're still feeling our way through. In May we were told 'You are no longer getting a new building - you are now getting a new school and you have to open in September. Go.'
"It was a tremendous undertaking to move in and get it open on time."
With help from some hired hands and community volunteers, floors were washed, walls were painted and classrooms assembled before the students entered the school following their summer holiday.
500 student capacity
Currently, 261 students are enrolled, with the 40-year-old building having a capacity for about 500.
Fogarty realizes that establishing the new school is a work in progress. It's a challenge the 31-year-old educator sincerely welcomes.
"We would like to grow some more by adding a few more students," he said. "A lot of people move in and out of Edson and what we have seen this year, compared to Grades 7 to 12 last year, we might have lost a few students.
"It was a tough year in Edson altogether because just about every student in town had to move, or be adjusted in some way. Certainly the junior high students - everyone has been shuffled."
Before being transferred to the Living Waters Catholic School Board, the building was known as Jubilee Junior High School. But the public school's enrollment numbers were dropping.
At the same time, plans were drawn, sod was turned and services installed for the new Catholic junior high school that Fogarty said was to open as early as September 2004.
But that all changed.
"Given the declining enrollment in these public schools and the immediate need for additional Catholic schools . . . the transfer just makes sense," Alberta Learning Minister Lyle Oberg said at the time.
The public school students were quickly dispatched to other Edson schools, Fogarty said. Grade 7 and 8 students were placed in an elementary school, a move which required some restructuring. The Grade 9 students were moved into the high school that is renovating and expanding with money it received from the government.
While Fogarty admits several people were upset at the loss of the public school and that he wasn't too keen on the idea initially, the changes that have occurred since opening day have made the transition worthwhile.
"Coming here feels wonderful. There's more room to move around. The kids are happier. The staff is happier. It's relatively the same people, but with fewer constrictions," he said.
"I'm hearing a lot of good things about the kids being happier. Just in the hallways, it is so much better because we were so cramped."
Edson had relied on a single, K to 12 school - Vanier - to educate Catholic students. Fogarty, the former assistant principal, said the overcrowded conditions were almost unbearable.
"We were some 580 students. We just used every possible space for every possible moment. We made the best of it, but it wasn't easy.
"Now, the older kids sure do miss the little ones, but at the same time, I think they're glad to be here with their own space," he said.
"This is a junior/senior high. The students have more time. They can use the gym at lunch for intramurals. It's nice."
Fogarty said, "The plus side is we got it now, rather than a new school that probably wouldn't have been open until September, 2004. This is also a larger space than what we were going to build. This is a nice building. We like it.
"We have space we can work with."
With allocated renovation capital resting with Living Waters for projects in Edson and Hinton - Fogarty says final details are underway to determine how much goes where.
"There's never enough money for everything, but we are hoping it gets straightened out soon so we can start."
Hopefully, Fogarty said, renovations will start as early as next spring. Included in the works is expanding and modernizing the gym. The science and computer labs will be upgraded. As well, some classrooms, which were previously joined to create large rooms, will be re-divided with more hallway space.
"The rooms are fine as they are, but we'd rather have the hallway and use it as two classrooms on either side. Instead of two large rooms we will have four classrooms.
The small parking lot will be expanded. More paint put on the walls. And a room will be developed to doubly serve as a chapel and religion classroom. That way, the school will have a space specifically for prayer and faith development.
"It will look like a brand new school when it's completed," Fogarty said. "For me, there's no point in being upset about what we didn't get. We would have been in Vanier for at least another year. Who knows what might have happened in that year?"
One particular aspect of the school Fogarty enjoys is the sense of community with the staff and students.
"We are still small enough that we can have the one-on-one and get to know our kids. There is a great atmosphere. Not that larger schools don't care about their kids. They just can't physically get to know them the way we can."
With class sizes varying between 25 and 30 students, Fogarty believes there is room for more students.
He is confident enrollment numbers will increase next year.
"We just have to make this the best school it can be to make parents want to send their kids here," he said.