August 2016

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AUGUST 2016 | 93 Pikangikum First Nation School RENDERINGS COURTESY NUMBER TEN ARCHITECTURAL GROUP; PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY KEEWATIN-ASKI LTD. Pikangikum First Nation School by MARTHA UNIACKE BREEN A s Canadians marked National Aboriginal Day on June 21, the people of Pikangikum First Nation in northern Ontario had special reason to celebrate. For their long-awaited new school was almost complete and on track to welcome its first students in September. Pikangikum, a 8,350-hectare Ojibwe First Nation reserve in the Kenora district, is about 100-kilometres north of the town of Red Lake. Its population of about 2,700 is strikingly young: nearly 90 per cent of the community is under 39, with fully one-third under the age of nine. In 2007, the local school burnt to the ground, and a temporary school was built to replace it, consisting of prefab buildings and portables. Not only was the facility inadequate to meet the needs of the community, it did little to engender a sense of pride and purpose in young people. But in 2013, a glimmer of hope arose: the First Nation awarded a contract to Keewatin- Aski Ltd. (KAL) to oversee the design- build process of a new school. The $57.8-million Pikangikum First Nation School, funded by the federal Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, is a state-of- the-art, 100,000-square-foot facility that includes two gymnasiums, a library, two cafeterias, sports fields that include a baseball diamond, soccer pitch, running track and hockey/skating rink and an enrolment capacity of nearly 950 students. "While the direct purpose of this project is delivery of a new comprehensive K4 to Grade 12 school, the facility will provide much more to the First Nation, in terms of better education, building the community and creating promise for the future," explains Norm Lawrence, project manager with KAL. "Successful schools serve as community hubs," he continues. "They are meeting places and places of exchange as well as learning. The new school will replace the community's existing temporary school facility with one that provides access to a much broader variety of academic and technology opportunities for the community members." As Number TEN principal architect Barrie Ottenbreit explains, despite its overall size, the school was designed with sensitivity to the needs of the youngsters who will arrive in the fall. "The school is broken into three sections, all interconnected," Ottenbreit says. "The eight kindergarten classrooms are in their own wing, with a separate door inside the elementary school entrance. The section has been specifically designed for small children, with its own cafeteria, gym, playground area and equipment, fenced off from the general grounds." A second door inside the elementary main entrance accesses Grade 1 to Grade 4 on the main floor, and Grade 5 to Grade 8 on the upper level. "The whole idea of the layout is a journey through education. You start school in the kindergarten wing through the door on the right, then move on to the door on the left for the main floor classrooms, then graduate to the second floor. Then you go on to the high school in the third wing, through the main entrance to the school," Ottenbreit says. Along with classrooms designed for bigger kids and adults, the main/senior section also includes a teaching kitchen, shop facilities for auto technology and construction, and family skills, with sewing machines and other equipment. The main wing also houses principal school facilities such as a kitchen that serves the two cafeterias (one for the elementary school, as well as a larger cafeteria for senior students and adults), administrative offices and the main school gym, which has a stage and doubles as a music and drama classroom as well as a public facility for community gatherings. The grounds will be available to the community after hours. One of the most fascinating aspects of the school is the celebration of Aboriginal culture in its design. "There are murals throughout the school, with a major one painted by a local artist," says Ottenbreit, adding that students may be directly involved in the creation of the mural. Also, "Pikangikum has one of the strongest retentions of the native Ojibwe language in its population, so we have incorporated native words throughout the school in both Ojibwe and English, such as 'hope,' 'trust,' 'learning,' and 'succeeding,' carrying a very positive message." The region surrounding Pikangikum, one of the most pristine stands of boreal forest in the world, has been considered as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is a source of great pride to the community. The priorities of the landscape team, according to landscape architect Derek Murray of Scatliff + Miller + Murray, were to both extend the ideas of the architecture and to respect and reflect the local surroundings. "The site, particularly behind the school, is heavily vegetated," Murray observes. "They wanted the school to feel carved out of the forest. They also wanted to be sensitive to the environment in the construction at every phase." This meant not only removing as few trees as necessary to clear the site, but to work with

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