New High School to Be Built Alongside Multiplex

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HSD trustees Ruby Wiens and Shannon Friesen with Superintendent Randy Dueck and Niverville mayor Myron Dyck at the site of the future school Evan Braun

It’s official: after years of lobbying, Niverville is getting a new high school, and the site has been identified as the future home of the Niverville Multiplex.

“I’ve learned enough in political life to know that there are things that might take you ten years to do,” says Mayor Myron Dyck, “and then there are things that miraculously come together in a month.”

The new high school is one of those rare together-in-a-month things. That’s about how long the various parties have been working behind the scenes to get a deal in place.
“It is very unusual,” says Hanover School Division trustee Ruby Wiens. “It is not typical at all.”

Let’s review the timeline of events. On April 26, Minister of Education Ian Wishart remarked to reporters that a high school in Niverville was one of the province’s top two priorities, the other priority being an elementary school in Winkler. On June 16, the province made the official announcement that funds were in place for the new school. Most recently, on July 18, the Hanover School Division made a joint announcement with the Town of Niverville pinpointing the multiplex site.

Anyone who follows politics at any level could certainly agree that this kind of speed is unheard of.

“When the announcement came that Niverville was getting the high school and site selection became an issue, we simply said [to the province], ‘Would you be interested in a community campus model?’” says Mayor Dyck. “We always hear from the province talk of return on investment. Partnerships. Regional. All these kinds of things. So we said, ‘Hey, if we were to work together and if a site could be chosen where this could occur, what would you guys think?’ You’re now talking to a developer, the province, the school division, and town council, all working together to see what the opportunities might be and what the barriers might be and to see how we might be able to overcome them.”

With the timelines set by the province, the details had to fall into place quickly. Town council hired Stantec, an engineering firm, to perform a study on the multiplex site, a study which they then presented to Hanover, hoping to demonstrate that locating the school and the proposed multiplex on one site made the most sense on many levels.

“Hanover School Division reviewed it and they came forward and said, ‘Yeah, we agree with that,’” says Dyck. “So what this does is it gives the community an opportunity to see the synergies of the multiplex in a shared initiative. As you can see from the model, there’s shared parking, a shared impact on the environment, shared infrastructure, and shared space.”

Although other sites were considered, Niverville councillor Kevin Stott says there was no question that the multiplex location was the best all-around choice.

“One of the big things we realized together is that, thinking about the infrastructure, this was the closest [site] to being ready for sewer, water, and roads,” says Stott. “Whereas when you went to one of the other sites, you had to bring all of that in, and we didn’t know if we could meet those deadlines.”

Wiens agrees with that assessment. “In fact, we know we wouldn’t. I guess there was the option of pushing the building back a few years, if we would want to wait, but that actually wasn’t [an option].”

HSD Superintendent Randy Dueck is very excited about the possibilities of including the school in the multiplex campus.

“The parking lot is going to be shared by both the multiplex and the school,” says Dueck. “It will be large enough for both, but because typically during the school day there isn’t as much going on in the multiplex and in the evening there’s a bit more, we think that there’s some really good shared opportunities there. We’re also exploring the opportunity of sharing geothermal [heating], and if there’s an arena in this multiplex, there could be a huge opportunity to swap energy.”

Essentially, it takes a lot of energy to cool down an arena, producing heat which can then be diverted to the school. Dueck says this is a perfect example of how the shared facilities can support each other and find financial savings in the process.

Dueck also points to the joint infrastructure. “As we develop roads that come in here,” he says, “there will only need to be one road developed for both [buildings]. If we were elsewhere, we would need a road, they would need a road. Now it’s one road. One piece of community infrastructure.”

Potentially even more exciting, HSD anticipates entering into a shared service agreement with the town so that students and staff can make use of the multiplex’s extensive recreation facilities.

“We’ve actually got a hard link that we’re going to build between the two buildings so our students during the day can go through that link to make use of the fieldhouse, can make use of the arena programming, etc.,” says Dueck. “There are just some great programming opportunities for us and for our students. We also will have a daycare here, and my understanding with the multiplex is that there’s going to be a kids play area in the multiplex. The kids in the daycare can go through the link into the multiplex and make use of that shared play area.”

Another opportunity will be large tournaments, something Niverville used to be far too small to accommodate. To start with, Dueck says that the new school’s gym will be a large one. “With this new gym, and with the gym of a proposed fieldhouse and the current gym at NCI, within basically a square mile there are three good-sized gyms, so we can run all kinds of tournaments in a place like this. Provincial tournaments or whatever else that may lead to.”

Since the site was announced in mid-July, some residents have expressed concern about locating the school on the west side of the railroad tracks when most of the town’s population currently lives on the east side.

Stott says that most of the town’s future development is going to occur on the west side, and the construction of the school and multiplex will further spur that trend in the coming years.

“We’ve been moving in that direction anyway,” Stott says. “On the east side of town, anything we have for residential is basically full. If you look out [west], there’s 900 acres out here. So sooner or later, you’re moving 50 percent across this way, or 50 percent across that way.”

Stott points out that the town and the division are very concerned about railroad safety, but because of future development to the west, they would have been forced to tackle those concerns no matter what.

Mayor Dyck says that although plans for a future pedestrian crossing over the tracks are in their infancy, the discussions are top of mind.

“Council had at one point gotten as far as to get a price from CP to do a pedestrian walkway under the tracks,” Dyck explains. “The engineering came back at $400,000, which basically told council, ‘Take a hike.’ That is just not a real number at all. Having said that, I am planning on attending a CP function on August 4 in Winnipeg. One of their VPs will be there and I hope to speak to him and those of his employees that look after the Niverville area. My goal is to have the CP reps come to our town for the purpose of discussing rail safety in light of a growing community.”

Dyck indicates that there are three possible options for a pedestrian rail crossing: a tunnel under the tracks, a surface crossing with arms and lights, and an overhead bridge. He notes that the overhead bridge is generally the least favoured option by rail companies.

“There has been discussions [about pedestrian walkways],” says Wiens. “And there will continue to be discussions.”

So when will this all happen? The province has set some ambitious goals, according to Superintendent Dueck.

“We’ve been told we have to have the doors of this place open and filled with students in September 2019,” Dueck says. “What that means is that we have to have shovels in the ground by March 2018. We’ve already started doing a massive amount of work on site design and site development. We had to submit on July 21 the design plans, so that’s ready to go. We’ve been working with MCM Architects to do that. Then we’ve got to tweak the design and get it ready for tender. Tender, I think, will happen in January for construction, with shovels in the ground by March.”

Mayor Dyck says that he is grateful for all the parties coming together to make this happen, even though it imposed inconveniences on everyone involved.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Randy and the Hanover School Division. They were supposed to break for summer on June 28, but he and they have kept working through this with the province, with the Public School Finance Board, with emails, texts, and phone calls from people on vacation. They’re excited about this and they want to see this happen. So we’re so appreciative to Randy and his team for just being willing to think about something that’s unique and different, and of course for their hard work.”

Standing on the site of the future campus, Dyck looks around with a huge smile on his face. “All I can say is that if reasonable people that have been hired and elected to do a job exercise reasonable judgement, you can do unreal things.” 

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