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Preserving ‘a piece of Edmonton’s history’: Construction begins on renovation and expansion of Highlands School

Click to play video: 'Work to upgrade, preserve Highlands Junior High underway' Work to upgrade, preserve Highlands Junior High underway
WATCH ABOVE: At over a century old, Highlands Junior High is an architectural treasure. As Edmonton Public moves forward with plans to expand the aging building, plans are also in the works to preserve its charm. Margeaux Maron explains – Sep 25, 2019

Students and staff from Highlands, Montrose and Mount Royal schools gathered Wednesday to witness the start of a significant transformation.

At more than a century old, Highlands School has undeniable historical value in our community. A major construction and expansion project officially began at the school Wednesday morning.

“It is a monumental project for us,” Edmonton Public School Board’s assistant superintendent Lorne Parker said.

“It is going to allow us to deliver a 21st century learning environment while keeping the historical facade and historical building intact.”

READ MORE: EPSB will have to guess at its budget until Alberta government gives final answer

Students cheered on as the demolition of the school’s 1954 addition began.

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Parker says the project is complicated. Plans are to the demolish the east half of the school as the original historical half remains in use.

“That means that we will have to, halfway through the project, move the students into the new phase and then start on the 1912 building,” said Parker.

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Renderings of the Highlands School modernization and addition project show a new wing being constructed on the left, and a modernization of the original, historically significant building on the right. Courtesy: Edmonton Public School Board
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Renderings of the Highlands School modernization and addition project show a new wing being constructed on the left, and a modernization of the original, historically significant building on the right. Courtesy: Edmonton Public School Board

EPSB Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks says the new district K-9 school is vital for the community, but that neighbouring residents were vocal with their concerns.

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“When you look back at pictures of our city from 1914 you can see this beautiful school and all around it there was nothing, it was farm land,” said Estabrooks.

A 1922 photo of Highlands School in Edmonton, Alta. Courtesy: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum

It’s a truly unique structure. Regal exterior features enclose beautiful, ornately built marble halls.

“It’s a piece of Edmonton’s history and its important to preserve our history,” said Estabrooks.

School board officials confirm the aesthetics of the building are to remain largely unchanged. And as old meets new, the charm will continue in its own way.

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Renderings depict what the interior cross section will look like between the new and old . Courtesy: Edmonton Public School Board
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Renderings depict what the interior of Highlands School will look like where old meets new. Courtesy: Edmonton Public School Board
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Renderings depict what the interior of Highlands School will look like where old meets new. Courtesy: Edmonton Public School Board

“It’s this beautiful open spot with cascading staircases and tons of light,” said Estabrooks. “I think it’s going to complement what already exists within this building and what’s on this site.”

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Estabrooks says EPSB was careful to ensure programs parents said were important would continue in the new space, like full-day kindergarten at Montrose.

READ MORE: Historical house restored into public event facility in Edmonton’s river valley

“Another desire of the community is for this arts core component to be retained,” said Estabrooks. Mount Royal and Highlands currently have arts core offerings which will be continued in the new space.

Completion of construction is scheduled for Fall 2021 at a cost of $23.8 million. Montrose and Mount Royal Schools will close at that time with students moving over to Highlands.

The expanded and modernized school will have capacity for roughly 800 students, while 657 students are currently enrolled in Highlands, Montrose and Mount Royal Schools.

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