BONNYVILLE - It's been a long wait, but an official grand opening of the newly modernized Bonnyville Centralized High School (BCHS) was held on Sept. 29, complete with a ribbon cutting and a visit from the Government of Alberta's Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange.
Principal Mark Centazzo welcomed everyone to the official opening, including a number of dignitaries and a gymnasium with hundreds of students. On hand were representatives from Northern Lights Public Schools, along with former principals from the school - such as Ernie Isley, the first principal of BCHS.
"This is a very special day for BCHS," said Centazzo. "We celebrate the present BCHS and what it means to everyone here, and we set high expectations as we look forward to the next several decades for this building."
Speaking first was president of the BCHS student council Alexa Gamble.
She spoke about how students were "more than appreciative" of the newly modernized school. "We would like to say thank you to everyone who was involved in the process of putting together such an incredible school."
Students are happy to once again have events that were missed out on, such as sporting events, the fair trade market coffee house, and graduation ceremonies have been able to start up again, she said.
"I know that many memories have been made here already, and we're only just starting out," said Gamble.
NLPS board chair Karen Packard also took time to address those who had gathered on Thursday.
"This is a day that everyone in Northern Lights Public Schools has been looking forward to for a long time," said Packard.
She commended NLPS and BCHS staff who worked throughout the process of the modernization of the school. She spoke about teachers who packed up and ensured students received the same level of education despite being in a temporary location while construction took place.
"To our students, we hope your time here is full of learning and many opportunities to make memories that you will carry with you as you pursue your dreams," said Packard.
Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson spoke briefly, saying, the grand opening "has been a long time coming."
He recalled how when he was elected there was a pile of drawings sitting on a desk, and after everyone came together the project started moving along.
The project wasn't without its challenges, for example when students were nearly forced to return to the school amid construction, but ultimately stayed longer at their temporary location, the Bonnyville & DIstrict Centennial Centre.
"It's a combined effort... it hasn't been an easy run but definitely well worthwhile," said Hanson.
LaGrange then addressed the crowd.
"An incredible amount of hard work went into the modernization of this facility," said the minister. She added, "The entire community can be proud (of the school)... this school represents a reinvestment in our children's future."
Having a modernized high school ensures that students in Bonnyville have a safe learning environment to go to, and offers space that will cultivate a life-long passion for learning, said LaGrange.
"Investing in school infrastructure does not always mean building new schools. It also means building on what we already have here, building on the memories of the school that was here before and creating new memories," said the minister.
A ribbon cutting then took place, along with plaque presentations to mark the occasion.
A grand opening was originally set for Oct. 1, 2021, after students returned to the modernized facility for the 2021/22 school year, but the COVID-19 pandemic bumped that date forward a year.
BCHS was approved for a modernization of the school in the spring of 2017, when the province allocated $500 million to 26 school projects across Alberta.