Three Thames Valley District School Board schools were officially opened or re-dedicated in Tillsonburg Friday.
After investing nearly $18 million, including $12 million for the new Westfield Public School, the schools celebrated with hour-plus ceremonies featuring a variety of student performances and commentary from visiting dignitaries.
The day began with a re-dedication at South Ridge Public School, the focus of today's article (Annandale Public School and Westfield to follow later), where a new gymnasium was built, a new library – now known as the Learning Commons – and music room. The library is located where in the old gym, and the music room – equipped with an array of instruments now – in the old library. New rooms and amenities were also added.
A group of South Ridge primary students sang 'All Dressed Up, Ready To Go', appropriate for the re-dedication in the royal purple and gold themed gym and activity area.
South Ridge principal Paul Szorenyi shared a story about welcoming new students and families to the school, and about students who already called South Ridge home.
"For me, when I walked into the building five years ago, it was the most important thing in the building," said Szorenyi, who went for a tour when he began as principal.
"You have an inside voice when you walk into new areas. You hear something inside your head... what I heard was wonderful, polite, welcoming students that treated each other with respect. What I felt was warm welcoming, warm hearts. And I also knew, because I could hear it, were the teachers and the former administration that had set that tone of a welcoming atmosphere. That's the most important part.
"Two-and-a-half years ago we started a renovation, and it was quite a process. We had packing, we had moving boxes, re-arranging rooms, enduring construction zones – maintaining safety for everyone. We demonstrated patience when the school was not accessible. And we had new routines."
Szorenyi thanked the staff, students and families for their patience and perseverance.
"Our renovations began with the construction of the FDK classrooms. The new addition started in the fall of 2014, completed in June 2015. Many of the transformations happened in this short time.
"With the completion of our new South Ridge school, we have so many more things to offer. We have our youngest students enjoying their FDK classroom. It's inspiring to see our musical talent in the new music room, seeing the beginning of instrumental music."
The Learning Commons is the heart of the school, he said.
"It puts a positive twist on what we remember as the library. In the Learning Commons, we use things a little bit differently. We gather in the Learning Commons to create, to listen, to read, to learn, to use and explore technology, to help one another and work in small groups."
The new gym, which also features a new stage, light and sound system, has an 'attached' activity room.
"With the removal of our portables – you'll remember we had five portables here – and the addition of the Tillsonburg South Ridge Community Park, we have a very large play area. A wonderful play area outside to run, to play, to do phys-ed."
Also thanking the custodians, Szorenyi said they have a fresher, brighter, cleaner school to work in.
"And we are proud of it."
The expansion allows the introduction of intermediate students in the school, a first for South Ridge, formerly K-6, now JK to Grade 8. Currently they have Grade 7s, who will graduate in June to become the school's first Grade 8s.
"It is wonderful to have our Grade 7 students here. It brings leadership opportunities. We count on our older students to help our younger students. We have new extracurricular activities."
A new group of students coming over from Rolph Street brought their school's heritage to South Ridge, said Szorenyi, and enhanced the school.
"Together we began this year as a new South Ridge school community. All of our students – all of you – will enjoy all of these wonderful opportunities in this wonderful South Ridge environment. Remember, it all started – the building is wonderful, the facilities are great – but it all started with a little voice. This is about you. It's about how wonderful our students and staff made South Ridge school."
Other speakers Friday morning included Bill McKinnon, chair of the board trustees, a representative from the Ministry of Education, Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar, and Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, and Paul McKenzie, Superintendent, and Graham Hart, trustee.