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Father Lacombe School staff and students mark a successful first year in new digs

Catholic Education Week runs May 5-10

It’s been a year since Father Lacombe School marked its official grand opening, and students and staff are still enjoying the many benefits of the state-of-the-art facility.

“We had been advocating for a new school building for about 10 years, and in 2017, we finally got the announcement from the government that we were getting the funding. It was meant to be for a modernization at first,” said Maria Wagner, the school’s principal.

But on further examination of the old building, it was found there were too many issues for a mere modernization, she said.

“They weren’t happy to build new parts onto an old building, so things ended up going from a modernization to a brand new school.”

Over 2019-19, the design process was launched and the school was eventually opened in December of 2022.

“We sat down as stakeholders and said what do we want here as we get to design this from scratch? That was the fun part! So we met with parents, with kids, with our community members, and of course our staff.

“We got to plan our dream school. We were also working with really wonderful architects from Group 2, and they wanted to build a school that didn’t look like a school,” she explained.

The team opted for an open feel, with lots of glass, sunlight, and plenty of community spaces.

“But we still wanted our traditional classrooms where you could close the door and kids could better focus,” she explained.

“So we wanted that balance between traditional learning spaces and classrooms with some really beautiful spaces to collaborate in.

“We had our big grand opening in April of 2023 — one year ago, and we had a big, beautiful celebration,” she said.

From that point on, it’s been a joy to come to the new facility and see its impact on the student body.

“It’s a game-changer,” she said, noting that the old school was cramped and in increasingly bad repair.

“We started with 75 kids originally when we moved into the old building, and we are now almost at 260. We were managing, though. And what was beautiful is that even though we had a building that was kind of falling apart, we had this wonderful and positive staff that made the best of what we had,” she recalled.

Today, students and staff enjoy spacious classrooms in a brightly-decorated, energy-efficient facility.

Right off the entrance is also an ‘open concept’ library space known as a learning commons.

Flanking this is a large set of ‘stairs’ that essentially double as seating spaces for students to gather for services.

On the building’s large front windows, there is a blue cross so when the light shines through, the staircase is essentially lit up with its reflection.

The front area is also used for parent gatherings and meetings, too.

“It’s a beautiful, multi-use space for sure.”

Wagner, who is originally from London, England, first lived in Calgary where she worked for a few years, later working in various schools in the Wolf Creek division.

“At the time, there wasn’t a Catholic school in Lacombe. I was very interested in trying to advocate for Catholic education here, and so in 2004-05, we started to plan.

“I started here as a teacher. In 2013, I became the vice principal and in 2017 I became the principal. We built this literally from the ground up. I’m so proud of this place.

“One of my favourite things about this school as well is how diverse we are. We have a hugely diverse community from all different parts of the world,” she explained.

”And then there is the faith piece, too, which makes a difference,” she said, adding that students of all faiths are welcome at the school.

The goal is that each child feels safe and at home, she said.

“When you feel like you belong, you learn.”

Meanwhile, May 5-10 marks Catholic Education Week.

“Alberta is one of the few provinces in Canada that offers publically-funded Catholic education,” she explained.

“The difference is that we are allowed to teach faith. It’s part of everything that we do.”

Part of the Catholic Education Week includes the wearing of blue, which is planned for May 9.

“It’s one day that we can visibly show that we support Catholic education.”

Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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