The tale of two schools: Espanola’s foray into collaborative and integrated design

The town of Espanola, located 70 kilometres west of Sudbury, Ontario, faced at dilemma: they had two schools in need of repair and renovation. When this situation arises in other towns and communities across Canada it may not cause a stir, but Espanola’s case is a little different. Sacred Heart Elementary and St. Joseph Elementary are currently neighbours; both located near Mead Boulevard, just a two-minute drive from one another. Through the collaboration of two school boards and the innovative design of IDEA Inc., both schools will receive a new home – and become even closer neighbours.

Sacred Heart is an English speaking Catholic school which falls under the jurisdiction of the Huron Superior Catholic District School Board (HSCDSB), while St. Joseph is a French speaking Catholic school, falling under the Conseil Scolaire Catholique Nouvel Ontario (CSCNO) school board. With both schools in need of upgrades, each board independently developed detailed proposals, which involved major additions, new construction, and demolition of the existing buildings. While some funding for this work was allocated under the Ministry of Education’s Good Places to Learn, a program aimed at renewing Ontario’s schools by providing funding for the redevelopment of aging school buildings, it was not enough to cover the cost of both independent projects. 

 Shortly after, the Ministry of Education established a new mandate for school projects, stating that funding priority would be given to capital projects where school boards collaborated in developing collective, integrated solutions. In response, both school boards, collectively, conducted a feasibility study involving the consolidation of the two schools into a new, single building, creating a joint school project. Their proposal was approved in 2014, and IDEA Inc. was retained to design the new joint project. 

Budgets are often challenging for these types of projects, especially in towns like Espanola, where student enrolment is limited and construction costs are high. The investment from the Ministry of Education is expected to cover the capital construction costs required to build spaces such as the gymnasiums, libraries, cafeterias, and washrooms, while funds from student enrolment are expected to cover the construction of the remaining areas of the school. The joint project allows both school boards to pool their financial resources and reduce overall costs by sharing common spaces and infrastructure.  

 “This project is designed to keep each school functionally independent, preserving autonomy, while sharing the gymnasium and library – spaces that otherwise would have been duplicated if the projects had been executed independently,” stated Franco Pasotre, Principal Architect, IDEA Inc. The two school boards have been collaborating for many years and have a successful working relationship, but this is the first joint school project that they have collaborated on. 

In terms of design, both school boards wanted a visibly Catholic design, incorporating architectural features celebrating the tradition of faith-based education. To deliver on this request, the west façade reflects the English Catholic elementary school, while the east façade houses the French Catholic elementary school. The south serves as the front of the school and accommodates independent main entrances for each school, while the north side of the building incorporates the storefront or entrance for the daycare, which is also a collaboration between the two school boards. Parity between the two schools was also necessary, so both the east and west façades were designed to be virtually identical in layout, configuration, and building quality. 

“Although it took a long time to arrive at the final solution, it was the process the project required. The project evolved from renovation and addition, to new independent buildings, to its current form today: a joint school project,” commented Pastore. The respective school boards, the Ministry of Education, and design teams, were able to compare and evaluate the various redevelopment scenarios to better understand which worked best in terms of design, operational efficiency, and value for investment. “This project is unique because it can be used as a pilot for future school redevelopments located in small or rural communities that experience limited enrolment and higher building costs,” he concluded.

IDEA Inc. was recently retained by the Algoma District School Board (ADSB) and the Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l’Ontario (CSPGNO) to design a new joint French-English JK to 12 school in Blind River, Ontario. This project will follow in the footsteps of the Espanola joint school project, with a similar approach in terms of architectural, mechanical, and electrical design work. 

Construction on the new Espanola joint school project will begin in 2018 and will be complete in 2020.  

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