The first day at South Surrey’s Grandview Heights Secondary, Sept. 7, was a first step into a new school for some 1,500 secondary students. But it also represents another step into the future of education for Surrey School District.
The ultra-modern 13,700-square-metre (147,465 sq.-ft.) school, completed over two-and-a-half years at a total price tag of $82 million, features – rather than traditional classrooms – flexible learning labs emphasizing multiple-grade teaching and collaboration.
Other features are a three-storey entry atrium that is also an open-learning commons, rather than a traditional library; dedicated lifestyle and science labs, a 150-seat re-configurable theatre, a dance studio, two large gymnasiums and spacious modern metal and woodworking shop facilities.
Designed by Station One Architects and built by general contractor Yellowridge Construction Ltd., the school has also been designed for a 50 per cent reduction in energy use as compared to a LEED Gold Baseline. Among consulting firms that worked on the project are Rocky Point Engineering (mechanical); Bush Bohlman & Partners (structural); Coastland Engineering (civil); and Jarvis Engineering (electrical).
In a tour of the new school just prior to opening, capital project manager Sheetal Basra and principal Darren Bedard demonstrated learning labs with retractable walls that allow spaces to expand or contract according to the needs of each subject.
“The idea is to allow all the grades to be together in pods, to encourage collaborative learning,” Basra said. “It’s a 21st century learning model that is much more collaborative and proactive.”
“If you have two associated classes, the space can go from (accommodating) 30 students to 60 students, if you had a (visiting) speaker, for instance,” Bedard explained.
“It’s very different from when I went to school, when every box had its subject, it was all control-driven and teacher-driven and you all sat down in one room,” he added.
“But curriculums are different now – it’s much more directed to student-centred learning, to allowing children to pursue their interests and passions and have more active participation in what they learn and how they learn. And the spaces have caught up to that approach.”
The planning also relates to a recognition that learning styles differ with each student, Bedard said.
“We’re meeting the kids where they’re at in the educational process. Some kids love working in larger groups where others don’t want to work in a group; they learn better on their own. In many ways we’re having the kids ‘design’ the rooms – it will be interesting to see them be creative.”
The three-storey atrium ‘learning commons’, they explained – pointing out curved rows of bookshelves and seating on each level – is the school’s departure from a traditional library, and also incorporates a student lounge.
“People say to me, ‘the books are outside the library?’ and I tell them ‘this is the library,’” Bedard commented, with a chuckle.
“It’s a safe place to learn, read and reflect.”
Basra also noted that the school’s theatre – which follows the ‘black box’ configuration – has retractable seating which can increase the size and flexibility of the space, and also a safe ‘catwalk’ area where students can actively participate in setting lighting for specific productions.
While there is a smaller and a larger gymnasium, both are generously sized, and the physical education area of the school also includes fully-equipped exercise rooms, Basra pointed out.
The metal and woodworking shops are large enough to accommodate all kinds of projects, she added.
“It doesn’t have to be all about theory,” she said.
“Usually you’d have to go to BCIT or a technical school to get this (degree) of hands-on experience.”
Seeing the project through to completion has been a long and involved process, Basra acknowledged.
But she said she is grateful to both staff of the school and the district for having had the opportunity to help create “a great learning environment – one that impacts on the community and influences future generations.”