September 2023

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S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3 | 93 Theresa C. Wildcat Early Learning Centre R EN D ER I N GS CO U RT E S Y T H E WO R KU N GA R R I C K PA RT N ER S H I P A RC H I T EC T U R E A N D I N T ER I O R D E S I G N THERESA C. WILDCAT EARLY LEARNING CENTRE by NATALIE BRUCKNER N estled in the heart of Maskwacîs, Alberta, a profound educational endeavor takes shape – one that not only cherishes Maskwacîs Cree cul- ture, but places students' needs at its very core. The Theresa C. Wildcat Early Learning Centre, currently under con- struction just southeast of the existing kindergarten school, stands as a tes- tament to the vision of the Maskwacîs Education School Commission (MESC) and its unwavering commit- ment to fostering education rooted in Maskwacîs Cree values. The new Centre – named after the late Theresa C. Wildcat, a mem- ber of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, a visionary and dedicated educator, and pioneer in the field of education – is a remarkable space that goes beyond just academics. This 31,000-square- feet early learning facility is designed to be more than a school; it is a cultural haven that honours the rich traditions and wisdom of the Cree people. "The journey to building the Centre was long," explains Brian Wildcat, assistant superintendent at MESC. "It started in 2016 before the amalgama- tion of MESC [the amalgamation of four community school authorities in Maskwacîs: Ermineskin Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe, Montana First Nation, and Samson Cree Nation]. There were issues with the old kinder- garten – flooding, leaks, and mould. It was time for a new building." Wildcat says that at the same time that the proposal for the new Centre was put forward, MESC also started working with Paul Martin and the Martin Family Initiative on a liter- acy program for K5 to Grade 3. "That really kickstarted our project, and later that year we got the green light to move ahead," he says. Central to the creation of this educational sanctuary is Jen-Col Construction – a construction com- pany that shares MESC's vision and has embraced the philosophy of inclu- sivity, community involvement, and skill development. "We knew how important it was that the commu- nity be involved with the construction of their new kindergarten building. We place a special emphasis on work- ing with local First Nations' labour, trades, and suppliers whenever pos- sible," explains Mo Athari, project manager at Jen-Col Construction. "We're very happy to say we had well over 1,000 man-days of Ermineskin and Maskwacîs community members working on the construction of their kindergarten building." Guided by the Maskwacîs Cree values, The Workun Garrick Partnership Architecture and Interior Design embarked on a journey to design a school that fosters holistic development and encourages joy- ful learning. "It was integral that the design be unique and truly capture Cree values and that of the commu- nity," says Wildcat. The design process focused on nur- turing young minds through activities and interactive spaces, rejecting the conventional rigid classroom struc- ture. "It's not every day you come across a 225-student kindergarten- only school. It was an opportunity to have some fun in the design of the school," says Megan Carroll, associate at The Workun Garrick Partnership. Materials chosen for the envelope also focussed on providing a modern and sustainable learning environ- ment for the students and staff. "The frame of the building is formed by a system of structural steel beams and columns, while steel studs, metal cladding, and phenolic panels make up most of the exterior finishes. LOCATION Maskwacîs, Alberta OWNER /DEVELOPER Maskwacîs Education School Commission PROJECT MANAGER Jules-Associates ARCHITECT The Workun Garrick Partnership Architecture and Interior Design GENER AL CONTR ACTOR Jen-Col Construction STRUCTUR AL CONSULTANT Protostatix Engineering Consultants Inc. MECHANICAL CONSULTANT CIMA+ ELECTRICAL CONSULTANT MCW Consultants Ltd. TOTAL SIZE 31,000 square feet TOTAL COST Undisclosed

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