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New building set to open to replace 52-year-old Port Coquitlam school

It was old and well-loved but seismic concerns prompted the rebuilding of École Irvine Elementary at a cost of $24.3 million. Now students are set to make new memories in bright, clean building their teachers say.

A Port Coquitlam school labelled a seismic risk is finally being knocked down.

Fortunately, an earthquake isn’t responsible and the school’s replacement is opening next week.

 A brand new $24.3-million École Irvine Elementary is set to accept its first students on Monday (June 27) after a massive move that begins tomorrow (June 23).

"We are all very excited," acknowledged principal Dennis Shannon as he stood outside the new two-storey building located just south of the current structure (3862 Wellington St.).

The school for 400 students will have a large new gym emblazoned with an updated Eagles’ logo and the walls of the building have bright squares of blue to carry on the school’s traditional colours.

Although the students will only be in the school for three days before Irvine shuts for the summer, the Grade 5 student graduation is being held in the new building on June 28.

Classes to begin in new Irvine Elementary

Currently, the school is in a state of "transition" with numerous plastic red boxes soon to be filled with items for transfer to the new location.

Among the treasures to be saved is a scrapbook that contains newspaper clippings and photos dating back to Feb. 4, 1970, when the school first opened.

Shannon said secretary Tammy Gossen found the scrapbook as she was cleaning up.

"It's a real find," Shannon said as he flipped through the photos, many of them from the 1970s.

The school was named after Ada Irvine (pronounced Ervin), who was Port Coquitlam’s first school teacher and taught in the city from 1900 to shortly after WWII.

Keeping school memories alive while creating new ones is a major theme of the move.

Teacher Rachel Gladue, who attended Irvine herself from kindergarten to Grade 5, said the school has a lot of traditions, such as sports and theme days, which will be important so the new school feels like home.

“I feel like I grew up here, it’s my home both as a child and as a professional,” said Gladue, who teaches Grade 1/2 French Immersion and whose son Kanen attends kindergarten at Irvine.

She said she won’t miss the old plumbing and other dated features of the school and is looking forward to moving into the new building that will have the “feeling of being clean and healthy.”

Seismic issues a concern at 52-year-old school

The new building has lots of light, plenty of classrooms and a large open learning commons.

Teacher Sophie Zimmermann, who teaches Grade 2 and 3 French Immersion and has been at Irvine for 10 years, said the old school has always been welcoming to staff and students. Keeping that warm feeling in the new building will be easy because the school’s tradition is to build relationships.

“Structures get old but it’s the memories you create,” said Zimmermann, whose daughter Fable is in Grade 5 at Irvine.

Still, seismic concerns have long been a worry at the school, with the group Seismic Safety for B.C. prominent among advocates for a new building.

During one meeting, parents wore cardboard bricks on their heads to illustrate the importance of school safety.

Although Irvine was identified as a seismic risk in 2013, it wasn’t until 2018, when then-education minister Rob Fleming came to the school to announce funding for a replacement.

However, now that the building is almost ready for occupancy “it seems surreal,” said principal Shannon.

He said construction seemed to take a long time, and was likely affected by the pandemic and supply chain issues. But the cooperation between the site supervisor from Yellowridge Construction and the School District 43 facilities office made everything go smoothly.

“There were challenges for sure in terms of getting materials in a timely fashion. But if we learned anything in the pandemic it was flexibility and adaptability.”