IT'S only two short weeks until school starts, and crews are still busy painting walls, numbering lockers and checking blueprints. The gray, white and tan colour scheme has yet to be enlivened by the Northwest Coast art resting against walls and peeking out from corners.
From the third storey classrooms, two contrasting views are on display. Look up and take in the familiar green slopes of Grouse Mountain and the Lions. Look down to gawk at mountains of a different sort: two huge piles of broken concrete and twisted rebar, reaching as high as the second storey. It's all that's left of the old Carson Graham.
After a three-year rebuild, the busy Lonsdale secondary school is finally set to welcome students back Sept. 4. When they arrive, the teens won't just be walking into a brand-new building, but into a whole new approach to learning and preparing for their futures.
Cooking up something special
The heart of the new Carson Graham is the Agora, an airy gathering area open all the way up to the third floor, where skylights let the natural light pour in. This is where students will come together to eat, study and - let's face it - gossip and text.
It also may be the site of future candlelit dinners. Off to one side of the Agora, a door leads to a gleaming professional kitchen, filled with stainless steel range hoods, counters and sinks. Cooking classes here will go way beyond home economics. The school is aiming to teach North Vancouver students to cook like the pros.
"Not only Carson Graham students, but also students from other schools, will be coming here in the afternoon from 2-7 p.m., working with the chef from Vancouver Community College," says Hachlaf. "It's really exciting. They'll be working towards that apprenticeship credit for a chef-training program."
Just as food made by VCC's culinary students is sold in an on-site restaurant, so Carson Graham hopes to sell food out of the Agora in the future, opening the space up to the public for a few hours in the evenings. The culinary program is one example of how Carson Graham is developing and modernizing its electives. Another can be found above the metal and wood shops, in the autoCAD computer labs where students can design then fabricate their ideas.
The school was built in 1964 in the Lonsdale neighbourhood, and throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s developed strong wood shop, metalworking and automotive programs. In an era when students were separated into academic and non-academic streams, Carson Graham was known as the trades school.
But in the years since, that has changed. Carson Graham still offers a robust selection of career focused electives, including design, pre-engineering and animation, but these days, equal emphasis is placed on academics.
"There can sometimes be a myth that students (who are) less academic enter these electives, or that you consider trades any less worthwhile," says Karim Hachlaf, Carson Graham's principal. "That myth is eroding, because the trades are an excellent profession to pursue, and you need (strong) academic skills to enter the trades professions."
The physical rebuild was triggered by necessity. By the mid2000s, the school was in dire need of repair. The building was leaky, seismically unsound and had poor air quality. It would have cost more to renovate the school than to build a new one, according to studies commissioned by the school board, so in 2009 the demolition began. The new school cost $38 million to build.
The shiny new building has been built to LEED Gold standard, a green building designation that promotes the efficient use of water and energy, provides healthy indoor air quality and makes use of sustainable materials. Carson Graham has also gone high-tech, with Wi-Fi throughout the building, plasma screens to show eye-catching school announcements and newly outfitted computer labs.
"The (new) building is extremely exciting with what we can do," says Karim Hachlaf, Carson Graham's principal. "It opens many doors. . . . But beyond the building, it still comes back down to the people in the building."
Three schools become one
Those people are 1,100 students, ranging in age from 13 to 17, and their teachers. They'll all be coming together for the first time after spending three years apart in two separate buildings on the Carson Graham campus. The school will also be absorbing students from Balmoral Secondary, which will be used as an alternative learning centre instead of a high school starting this year.
Merging a diverse group of teens of all ages and backgrounds into a cohesive student body will be the first task Carson Graham will tackle. The first week of school will be taken up with assemblies, goal-setting activities and social events, all designed to get students off on the right foot. The week ends with a barbecue, organized by parents.
The opening of the new Carson Graham comes during a time when the fate of several school board properties is up in the air. The general shuffle has included amalgamating alternative learning programs at Balmoral and closing Keith Lynn and Lucas Centre, where those programs used to be housed.
Standing in the Choices room, a classroom which will house the school's alternative learning program, Hachlaf notes that while in the past at-risk students would have gone to a program like Keith Lynn, those students will now be able to stay at Carson.
"This is really your nontraditional type classroom, you're not going to see rows of desks, and you see that it's not a dungeon tucked away in a school; it's front and centre," says Hachlaf.
NO MORE BOOKS
A little farther down the main hallway from the Agora is a suspiciously small library. But it won't house fewer books than it did before; in fact, many more books will be available to students on Kindles they will be able to sign out. iPads will also be available for students and teachers to use in the classroom.
"Ninety per cent of my student population has a cellphone device or iPod Touch or something of that nature, and they (can) have access to that," says Hachlaf. "Our district philosophy is not to say: 'Let's hinder that and try to prevent that use.' In the end, it's going to happen. As educators, ultimately, let's embrace that; let's educate our students about technology, pros and cons."
It's not just about accessing information. Collaboration is also a key reason for bringing devices like iPads into classrooms, says Hachlaf. For instance, students will be able to do an assignment on an iPad and then share it instantly with the rest of the class using a wireless projector. The design of many of the classrooms, like a science "super lab" that can fit four classes simultaneously, also encourages students and staff to work together.
LEEDING BY EXAMPLE
Huge windows and glass interior walls throughout the school let in natural light. It's part of the energy-saving LEED design, and soon, the building itself may be used to teach students a thing or two about sustainability.
The school is equipped with solar panels to generate electricity and heat water. They only provide a small part of the school's electricity and were "added more as a learning tool for students, as a demonstration," says Ian Abercrombie, director of facilities for the school district.
The building is actually smaller than the old school, resulting in reduced energy and maintenance costs (around $8,500 a year). Architects have compensated for the square footage loss with a smarter design that will move students more efficiently as they go from class to class.
The old school had large bays where people could hide from view and vandalize the building. Now, clear sightlines within the building and from the grounds will allow staff to keep an eye on everything.
"The overall plan of the buildings ascribe to CPTED principles (crime prevention through environmental design)," says Abercrombie. "Compared to the old school, this school has been designed so there's far less space for people to congregate out of sight."
The school has also been designed so that select parts of it, like change rooms, can be opened to sports groups and other users without having to open the whole building. This will keep the school grounds and buildings in constant use, says Abercrombie, and will also contribute to cutting down on costly vandalism.
"We've also encouraged public use of the site through a bike trail . . . People coming up Larson can avoid the top 10 metres of vertical climb by taking a shortcut through this site, " says Abercrombie.
FRESH GREEN SCHOOL
Carson Graham will soon be bustling with teachers claiming their classrooms and getting them ready. For now, Hachlaf and Abercrombie can bask in the calm before the storm.
As for the mountains of rubble, they'll be carted away over the course of the fall. The busted-up concrete will be replaced with a green "pastoral area," says Abercrombie. The small park will be filled with trees and grass, and perhaps include a bench or two where students can sit to reflect on their aspirations amid the busy rush of high school.