March 2024

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 83 of 87

84 | M A R C H 2 0 2 4 Onchaminahos Elementary School ONCHAMINAHOS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL by JESSICA KIRBY A new elementary school on Treaty 6 Territory 180-kilome- tres northeast of Edmonton is more than a place to learn. It is a col- laborative, inclusive, welcoming space where design expertise, Traditional Knowledge, and community spirit unify to inspire a learning jour- ney for students and faculty. When 533 students from K-6 entered the school in fall 2023, it was a moment of pride for the construction team and of magic for the students. Onchaminahos Elementary School replaces the former elementary school in Saddle Lake, which was built in the 1970s, and integrates learning practices of the 21st century, embrac- ing technology and innovation. Much of the school's space is dedi- cated to opportunities for land-based learning, including gardens and out- door tables for traditional activities and an outdoor classroom designed in a traditional circular formation found north of the school building. Claudia Yehia-Alaeddin, architect with Reimagine Architects, says the Nation, the people she had the honour to work with for the past seven years, have truly shaped the work she does. "As of substantial completion back in July 2023, the student registra- tion number for the school stood at 109 students," she says. "Upon the opening in September 2023, there was a remarkable surge, with the student registration number sky- rocketing to 380 on the first day. The Nation's objective had consis- tently been to bring students back to the Nation. There was such an overwhelming excitement." Driven by the goal to see the chil- dren of the Nation educated within their Nation's land, surrounded by their culture, community, language, and tra- ditional teachings, the school's vision was created by many voices – from students to elders. "The community wanted to have a school that embod- ies an authentic learning environment and celebrates the pride and resil- ience in the Saddle Lake Cree Nation way of life," Yehia-Alaeddin says. The site selection and massing of the building was designed from the guidance of the community's Elders, ensuring the location for the school had significance to the community, and the building's orientation and program aligned physically and sym- bolically with the cardinal directions. Dedicated spaces for story telling, gathering, and connection to the land outside were also essential. "Spaces were designed to focus on embracing creative teaching opportu- nities, incorporating the digital world, encouraging innovation, and con- necting learning to local and global communities through interactive spaces for student-teacher collabo- ration, and with spaces that enable students to access learning according to their individual passions, curiosi- ties, and needs," Yehia-Alaeddin says. Each time students move through the school they undertake a field trip of sorts as they experience a series of varied learning destinations through- out the building. "As a student passes through the school, their senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing, sight, and balance are engaged, and each pass through the building sparks unique experiences," Yehia-Alaeddin says. For example, in order for the kin- dergarten students to reach the Learning Commons on the second level of the building, they must walk up the collaborative staircase, which has Cree language learnings inscribed on it. The group will then pass by the mechanical room, which, instead of being hidden away, is showcased by a large window. "Students can watch the building systems at work," Yehia- Alaeddin says. "Perhaps this will spark curiosity in a future engineer." "The Cave" is a unique space that offers inspiration and magic for stu- dents, evoking casual conversations around a fire pit. Located under the stair, this space features a light dis- play, depicting the Big Dipper and Little Dipper engraved into the con- crete. Trips down to the first floor are enriched by the "twirly slide," which is not only a playful invitation for stu- dents, but also a way of engaging their sense of balance. "In the same way that the mechan- ical room is exposed as a learning opportunity, the kitchen is also revealed by a series of large windows through which students can observe food preparation," Yehia-Alaeddin says. "This is an opportunity to learn from the kitchen staff." JEN COL Construction over- saw everything from the contract to procuring labour and materials to complete the build. "The building is primarily made of concrete, includ- ing a suspended concrete slab used to develop the second floor," says Darryl Podlosky, project director for JEN COL Construction. "An extensive struc- tural timber package, which includes glulam beams and purlins complete with Westdeck, creates the vertical shell and roof structure." The exterior is comprised of phe- nolic panels, standing seam metal cladding, and linear metal panels, all on an exterior insulated girt assembly, providing a durable exterior finish and an energy-efficient assembly. Numerous concrete elements within the building required metic- ulous attention and extended craftsmanship to ensure they met stringent aesthetic standards. A stand- out example is the main gathering stair, intricately cast-in-place after the completion of primary slabs and cer- tain interior components. "One of the primary challenges we faced on this project was ensuring the timely delivery of mechanical and elec- trical equipment to the site, which was crucial for maintaining the project schedule," Podlosky says. "To address this, we held weekly check-in meetings with all our trade partners, keeping a detailed record of potential issues and the strategies we employed to overcome them, ensuring the project's success." Podlosky says challenges on any proj- ect are opportunities to succeed, and the Onchaminahos was no different. Reimagine implemented its inte- grated design process (IDP), which Yehia-Alaeddin says brings out the best in the team and communi- ties, lifting up voices that are often overlooked and engaging the tal- ented architects and engineers in a refinement of their design to achieve regenerative buildings. To prepare for the school's opening and support the Nation's long-term goals, Reimagine engaged school lead- ership, administrators, educators, educator assistants, and opera- tional staff in an Authentic Learning Educational Workshop Series – seven customizable sessions devel- oped from aligning the Cree Seven Grandfather teachings, Indigenous Knowledge, and Reimagine's IDP. This helped the education team align the opportunities of architec- ture, interior design, and pedagogy to create an authentic learning envi- ronment for students and staff. "These workshops co-create a shar- ing circle that empowers educators to integrate culture, tradition, com- munity, and 21st-century learning in a reimagined school and prepare teachers for transition, ongoing pro- fessional development, and coaching," Yehia-Alaeddin says. "A school build- ing is more than just an architectural structure; it provides an important framework for the school's ambiance and helps ensure the best possible conditions for educational success." A LOCATION Saddle Lake, Alberta OWNER /DEVELOPER Saddle Lake Cree Nation ARCHITECT/ELECTRICAL CONSULTANT Reimagine Architects GENER AL CONTR ACTOR JEN COL Construction STRUCTUR AL CONSULTANT Fast + Epp MECHANICAL CONSULTANT D.A. Fox Engineering Ltd. L ANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Katharina Kafka Landscape Architecture CIVIL CONSULTANT V3 Companies of Canada TOTAL SIZE 4,324 square metres TOTAL COST $26.4 million P H OTO G R A P H Y BY C H R I S TO P H E B EN A R D/CO U RT E S Y R EI M AG I N E A RC H I T EC T S

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Award - March 2024