Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

School embarks on $7-M upgrade

Involves move during construction

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Westgate Mennonite Collegiate is trying to remodel again with an ambitious $7-million plan to transform the oldest part of the school into a modern facility dominated by an atrium.

Last time, four years ago, the community opposed an even more ambitious rebuilding plan.

"We're calling it a minimum-impact redevelopment," Ralph Regehr, chairman of the Westgate redevelopment committee, explained Monday.

Minimum impact on the surrounding community, maybe, but Westgate would have to uproot the entire school and move it elsewhere for a year during construction.

The new structure will sit on the existing site, and the only expansion will be about 1,500 square feet on the second and third floors facing the Assiniboine River.

The school unveils its plans to the community next Monday at 7 p.m. in the high school's cafeteria. A few weeks later, it's off to the city's board of adjustment to seek changes to its conditional-use variance.

The Armstrong Point Association could not be reached Monday for comment. Area Coun. Jenny Gerbasi declined to comment, because she'll sit on council's appeals committee in any challenge to the board of adjustment's ruling.

The collegiate looked at moving to a new location, principal Bob Hummelt said, but there was none to be found.

"We came up dry in all school divisions," he said.

The central portion of the school is the oldest, Hummelt said. It will be completely rebuilt, but the only thing anyone will see from the street is the new atrium.

"It's a building that's hard to cool, hard to heat," he said. "We've got little rabbit-warren offices here and there."

Regehr said the renovated space will have new classrooms, a 1,700-square-foot fitness centre and separate areas for band and choral students.

The office will overlook the atrium, from a vantage point that will let staff see the front door, Hummelt said.

Last time around, the community feared a behemoth with an institutional look, he said, and increased enrolment bringing more traffic. Enrolment won't change, said the principal.

"All three buildings are at different levels," Regehr said. The new space would be level with floors in the 1980s portion, and an elevator would connect it to the 1970s portion.

If all approvals go through smoothly, the best-case scenario is a September 2014 opening -- but the entire school would have to move for a year during construction, when the power, heat, and water would be off frequently.

Hummelt is looking all over the city for a space that could house the students and staff for a year.

"There is a risk you'll lose some students," though parents have shown great loyalty to the school, Regehr said.

Financing the plan

HOW would Westgate Mennonite Collegiate pay for its proposed renovations?

Because it's a private school, Westgate does not receive capital funding from the province.

There would be a substantial fundraising campaign, with the hope of attracting major donors.

Principal Bob Hummelt says Mennonite schools have traditionally not welcomed selling naming rights but are showing signs of starting to reconsider.

The new atrium in the centre of the school, a glassed gathering place for students, might be the best bet for that.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2012 B2

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