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Northern Alberta First Nation will get Canada's first net-zero school

A $40 million school in Beaver Lake Cree Nation will use geothermal heat and solar power.

A new $40 million school to be built at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation will be powered by the sky and the earth.

The K-12 school-which will be located on ground next to the current Beaver Lake community centre will be the first and only “net-zero” school in all of Canada, using geothermal heat from the ground and solar power to operate.

The school will also house a daycare as well as the Aboriginal Headstart program and a community library.

On July 3, members of Beaver Lake Cree Nation band council, local government officials, and community residents gathered for a ground-breaking ceremony for the state-of-the art building that will replace the 42-year-old Amisk Community School.

Construction is set to begin later in July. The building – which will be 4,800 square metres (about 51,000 square feet) – is expected to take two years to complete and be open in time for the 2026 school year.

Initial estimates on the building costs were about $32 million, however, the overall price is expected to increase, say Beaver Lake officials, due to consulting fees for the project, costs related to furnishing the school, equipment and surveying, as well as administrative fees.

During Wednesday’s ceremony to celebrate this milestone for the community, Beaver Lake Cree Nation Chief Gary Lameman spoke to those in attendance in both English and Cree about the significance of the project to the band members of today and the future.

Lac La Biche County councillor, Kevin Pare was also in attendance with Beaver Lake Cree Nation band councillors Michael Lameman, Leonard Jackson and Cole Gladue, who holds the education portfolio on the band council.

Gladue said the new school will have more room than Amisk, which was built in the early 1980s. From speaking with elders in the community, he learned that from the beginning, the old school had over-crowding issues. According to a recent press release from Beaver Lake administration, the school has faced historical issues that include flooding and mould, as well as bat, and mouse infestations.

Fixes to those problems in the past were not solutions, said Gladue, just “band-aids”.

“Our school is in rough shape,” he said, adding that the membership at Beaver Lake has grown since the school was first built, so the bigger foundation will serve more people and more community needs.

One of those needs, he said, will be met with the community library that will be part of the new school

“We have a Treaty right to education,” he said, explaining that right as not just for school-age children, but for lifelong learning as well.

He continued by saying that a community library where people can access not only books, but also computers and other resources, will help to fulfill that treaty right.

Federal funds

To help pay for the construction of the new, net zero school, Beaver Lake Cree Nation leaders received a $16 million grant through the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings (GICB) initiative from Infrastructure Canada. The remaining $24 million, said Gladue, is expected to come from additional federal funding.

Gladue stated that Beaver Lake Cree Nation has been on a priority list for a new school since 2001. He explained that the community kept getting bumped down the list until about six years ago, when band council members and administratorslearned about the GICB grant and moved forward in applying for this funding.

“We were, you know, lucky enough to be awarded that grant…it’s not an easy grant to get,” he said.

Chief Lameman said the community has evolved from a smaller school and is getting into a bigger one. He added that the current school has served the area well since it opened just over four decades ago, but that the community has outgrown it.

“It’s showing its age, that’s for sure,” he stated, praising the concept of the new school for its net-zero features, and the opportunities it will provide to the community. “It’s groundbreaking, (and) our students are going to be a part of that.”