During an announcement made at the school on Monday, Rick McIver, minister of infrastructure, announced a modernization project planned for the school.
“I’m very pleased, as part of our long-term commitment to build 50 schools, and modernize 70 schools, to announce today the start of the Barnwell School modernization project,” he said.
During the presentation, Barnwell School principal Sheldon Hoyt was visibly moved with emotion when he recalled the importance of former student Brynn Lund to the modernization process. Lund was 14 years old when she succumbed to cancer last October.
“There was one person, who I think made the biggest difference (in terms of speeding up the modernization announcement), and that was Brynn,” he said. “Her fight with cancer and her delicate health made everyone aware of the serious conditions of Barnwell School. Her situation catapulted (the school) as a priority. Even with her passing, she continues to do good through Team Brynn.”
Barnwell School has a long history in the community with roots dating back to 1907. The modernization will update and expand the 1955 section of the building and demolish sections from 1910 and 1942. No specifics on costs or a concrete timeline for beginning the modernization was announced, but McIver said he expects it to occur in the next 1.5 to three years.
“As soon as we can get it done in an orderly fashion, that’s what we’ll do,” he said, noting consultations with the school board and staff were needed to find a time which would inconvenience students the least.
The school has 150 students currently, but school principal Sheldon Hoyt said there are around 100 students in the Barnwell area who go to school in Taber. He said he hoped the modernization would draw them back to Barnwell.
According to an Alberta Government news release, modernized schools incorporate advanced systems and features such as large windows for natural lighting, and ventilation systems to improve air quality. There can also be substantial technology upgrades to better equip students for learning in the digital age.
“I feel the early educators and parents would really approve of what we see happening in the school today,” said Audrey Krizsan, a former school board chair and retired teacher who spoke on the history of the school.
Jenna Nelson is a Barnwell student who spoke about the importance of the school to the community and also to her life. She talked about how her five-year-old sister with cerebral palsy has difficulty getting around in the old school.
“A new, more accessible school will provide a place for (Nelson’s sister) and the other children who use it with a better learning environment,” Nelson said, addressing the crowd.
“When I was told we were getting a new school, I was absolutely thrilled,” she added, noting it was difficult for her to keep the news a secret until the announcement.
Ken Neilsen attended the school from 1934 to 1945 and went on to become a leader in promoting the appropriate use of fertilizer to increase crop production and respected soil scientist. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1994.
“We started with limited facilities and expanded when the need was great,” he said. “The need is great (again) so I’m glad to see the school expanding.”
“This is huge,” said Eric Jensen, deputy mayor of Barnwell.
“It’s been long overdue.”
Jensen noted a 20 per cent increase in population during the last census, and said the growth had caused pressure on the school.
“We love our community, and the school is the hub of the community,” he added. “It will be able to provide a better, more modern learning environment for our kids.”
“It really comes down to (the idea that) kids are the future of Alberta,” said McIver, following the announcement. “If we’re going to send them out into the world, we’re going to need them leading the world, not following.”
“That people care so much underscores these schools as the core of the community,” he added. “The strong feelings in here are really representative of what this school means to the future of their children and to their fond remembrances of their past.”