École Bellevue Creek Elementary has not only re-emerged as an elementary school, but it has also quickly developed its own neighbourhood identity by adopting its caring community culture.
Originally built in 1976 and closed in 2002, the school had been leased out to private child care operators before the Central Okanagan Board of Education opted last spring to repurpose it as a primary grade school to meet the spiking catchment area enrolment demands.
In September, Kindergarten and Grade 1 students returned to the school, with it expanding to accommodate Grade 2 next September.
Raelyn Larmet, principal of École Bellevue Creek Elementary, shared with school trustees at the board meeting last Wednesday (Nov. 23) the challenges in essentially opening a new school, the aggressive renovation plan under a tight timeframe to be ready for students in September, and creating a school culture for students and staff.
She recalled after being appointed principal, the enormity of the task associated with opening a new school seemed a bit daunting in her first few days officially on the job.
“We were building a new culture from the ground up in essentially a new building with all the renovations,” said Lamet, an initiative that welcomed input from staff and parents.
Students were also given a peek at the new school in the preliminary renovations stages, taking note of the library not having any books or the classrooms not having desks at that point.
“I told them don’t worry, when you come in September those things will be in place,” Larmet said, noting the sneak peek drew some 150 people.
The renovations called on the skills school district operations staff and outside trades contractors to carry out various tasks from updating safety systems and the washrooms to installing teaching technology, school infrastructure and new playground equipment.
While there were some initial reservations last spring about students being split between Ecole Bellevue Creek and nearby Dorothea Walker Elementary, such as parents having to drop off and pick up kids at both schools at the same time, Larmet said meeting with parents has helped smooth over those transition hiccups.
“I am out there at 7:55 each morning to welcome our students to school a bit earlier than normal to accommodate the dropoff at Dorothea Walker. We have been flexible and come up with a system to make sure everything flows okay,” Larmet said.
“We figured it out and parents have been very happy.”
Jamie Robinson, Central Okanagan Public School assistant superintendent, credited Larmet’s enthusiasm, in particular for opening up communication links with parents right from the outset, for the school having been embraced by the community it now serves.
“It is amazing to see what is possible when you focus on the possibilities,” said Robinson of what Larmet, assistant director of operations Josh Currie and the staff have been able to achieve since the process of repurposing the school began in March and reopened in September.
“It takes a lot of work to open up a new school,” added Kevin Kaardal, school district superintendent/CEO, citing the example of one teacher who he encountered during the summer on a visit to the school who was already setting up her classroom for students coming in September.
“The students are off to a great start at the school and the atmosphere is amazing.”