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Future a hot topic as renovations eyed for Outlook school

A public session invited people to give their thoughts on the status of Outlook High School, as well as discuss the future ahead.
File photo of Outlook High School. Credit: Derek Ruttle.

OUTLOOK - What exactly does the future look like for Outlook High School?

That was one of the key questions being asked at a community session held on Monday, May 6 in the school's Blues Room, where a small handful of people came out to listen to Jessica Gibson and Sara Rogers of Henry Downing Architects lead a discussion on where the school could be headed in the future.

The public meeting, which had been advertised since March, had a disappointing turnout of attendees, something which was addressed by the room itself. It was theorized that, like many small town meetings, many people don't get personally invested until any such projects or mandates reach a certain 'no turning back now' stage.

In any case, Gibson and Rogers provided information that showed that the Sun West School Division has identified Outlook High School as being eligible for a number of renovations, so the purpose of this particular meeting was to ask questions, theorize what the future may look like, and identify some of the key things that the school may need in order to stand out and become a sought-after destination for learning.

It's said that such a process will help result in a masterplan for the school that will guide any future renovations, and it may provide an opportunity to possibly re-envision OHS as a 21st-century learning space with a number of flexible, collaborative learning environments.

The school division is looking at which of their buildings need updates and renovations, and having met with both teachers and students previously, there will also be an online engagement session to be held at a later date.

"What do the next 40 years look like for our schools?" asked Gibson, setting the overall tone for the meeting and getting participants to think.

Keeping oneself relevant and up to date, meeting attendee Mayor Maureen Weiterman said that there should be "an ability to morph into what you need", and shared her hope that Outlook High "always had the numbers to grow" and keep student enrolment up.

When it came to discussing the things that the school needs in order to update and possibly even reinvent itself, things such as the ability to view school events on a live streaming application were mentioned, which was said to be a perfect thing for anyone who can't attend key sport events to use. Another thing was the current size of the gymnasium, which was said to sometimes be a deterrent as far as providing space for event attendees, particularly during events such as basketball and volleyball games.

One idea that was thrown out said, "It'd be great if there was one gym between them", adding the elementary school into the conversation.

Sun West has already been talking about renovations for some time, said Cathy Morrow of the school division, who also noted that the idea is to essentially "renovate what we have".

A number of questions came up in discussion during the meeting, such as what impact will the irrigation expansion have on such a project, with more people expected to move into the area with their families. It was also said that the goal is to be prepared when and if the population of Outlook and the immediate area grows.

As far as any possible changes to any such renovation project, any substantial changes in government and the connected policies was said to be a fear as the hope is that nothing impedes what will eventually be decided on.

Other highlights included a discussion on what people liked about OHS versus what needed improvement. It was said that more student spaces were wanted for the older grades and the youngest ones. As well, the library was seen as a big positive for both the school and the town, and both the OHS commercial cooking program and the industrial arts lab received praise. The involvement of the community is wanted to help shape the hopeful new direction of the school.

Questions that were asked included: What exactly happened to the school's band program? Or senior sports? Are the public's views and opinions in line with what teachers want to see? What can be done to help make OHS more of a 'community' like the environment at LCBI High School? Is new signage needed? More community engagement? How do we better showcase school history?

Such queries were discussed and it was said that these were the kinds of questions that would help shape what a new direction might look like, and help decide on any such new renovations for Outlook High School.

These renovation engagement meetings are expected to wrap up later this month, with two sets of plans set to be developed, and then finalized by one directive being decided on that will serve as the master plan.