The mood was bright and celebratory on Thursday morning in Two Hills, as seven long years of hard work, setbacks, and frustrations came to a close with the cutting of a bright blue ribbon.
Hundreds of students filled the large gym that now makes up part of the brand new school, set in the heart of the community. The construction of the Two Hills Mennonite School was originally announced in 2010, and the school was expected to be complete by 2014.
But, as construction of the school progressed, an artesian well was discovered on the site, and a variety of concerns arose, such as low levels of methane gas also being noted.
At one point, the project was at a standstill. But, the decision was ultimately made to move ahead with the project, despite the challenges of building on the site, and increased costs.
“Today, we celebrate a new building, not because it’s an engineering accomplishment . . . but because the school is something significant to the students we care so much about,” said Two Hills Mennonite School principal Ryan Morey, as he spoke to a large crowd on Thursday.
St. Paul Education Regional Division trustee Ruven Rajoo was also on hand, and reflected on the process of building the school.
“It is truly a delight to be there, and share in this incredible moment,” he said. He explained that he was “flooded with emotion” the night before the ribbon cutting, as he wrote his speech, recalling the journey it took to get to this point.
While that journey included some “absolute frustration,” he was thankful for the staff and students the school, and recognized the hard work and sacrifices that have been made along the way.
While he doesn’t like to single out any individuals in large projects, knowing it’s a team effort, Rajoo felt inclined to point out two specific names that he felt went “above and beyond” to ensure the project was complete – director of facilities Doug Fedoruk, and superintendent Glen Brodziak.
He noted that there were likely thousands of conversations, emails, and phone calls that took place, leading up to the completion of the school.
Rajoo also offered special mention to past MLA Ray Danyluk, who was in office when the school was originally announced, along with past SPERD trustee Ron Rudkowsky.
Past MLA Shayne Saskiw had helped move the project forward when things had stalled.
Rajoo then looked to current MLA Dave Hanson, thanking him too for his persistence and efforts.
“I know you care. Thank you for that,” said Rajoo, to Hanson.
And as he thanked his fellow colleagues on the board of trustees, Rajoo noted that, “We are the move unique and diverse school board in the province.” And, he felt strongly that the main reason the board is so successful comes down to one work – “respect.”
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jessica Littlewood was also in attendance, representing the provincial government. She acknowledged the community, and the fact that the project took seven years to complete, involved about 400 workers, which resulted in the 523 students sitting in the gym before her.
“It’s an exciting day . . . It’s the most important investment we can make in our province,” said Littlewood, when speaking about the new school. “This school is so much more than brick and mortar.”
She added that the school would act as a community hub, where families and neighbours will gather for decades to come.
Hanson then took his turn to address the crowd. He reflected on the fact that in September of 1966, he personally attended Grade 1 in the old school that once stood on the same site.
In Grade 5, he recalls an addition was put onto the building.
“It’s a real honour to be here,” said Hanson. When he was first elected as MLA in the area, the construction of the school was stalled. He had promised to get the project resolved.
“I know it’s been a long, hard fight,” he acknowledged, adding, the school has been needed for a long time. Hanson then presented students with new Canada and Alberta flags, to be hung in the school’s gym.
In closing, Morey once again took the microphone, encouraging people to “reflect on the challenges, and how it’s brought out the best in people.”
He thanked his staff, for pulling together to move from the old school, which has already been demolished, into the new school on a short timeline. He also noted that he was impressed with how students and construction workers have been working side-by-side, as construction wraps up.
Work continues to be done on the site around the school, with fences still in place, and heavy machinery still on site. Deficiencies are still also being wrapped up in the building.