Accessibility and inclusion a priority for high school renovations

By Daniel Adam
Staff Writer

Last week, the Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB) announced they will begin a multiphase renewal effort at Fort Frances High School (FFHS) this summer.

A release from the RRDSB says the washroom renovations are the most exciting aspect of the project. They will be implementing a multiple single use (gender neutral) design. Each toilet stall will have floor-to-ceiling walls with a lockable full door, increasing privacy and enhancing inclusivity.

“We see facilities nowadays going to what is basically a single room,” says Travis Enge, plant operations and maintenance manager. “It accommodates all our staff and students.”

The communal hand-washing station will be just outside these stalls, open to the hallway.

Heather Campbell, director of education, said the RRDSB heard from staff, students and the community that the washroom setup at FFHS needed improvement.

“We believe the new design will allow all students to feel safe, comfortable, and included when using the facilities, and will improve the overall feeling of safety and acceptance,” she says.

These renovations will affect the first and second floor central and first floor northwest washrooms.

The press release says this design is becoming prevalent in many modern facilities. Northern Lakes school in Atikokan uses this design and the new Rainy River K-12 school will incorporate this design once constructed.

Other projects at FFHS this summer will include replacing interior door hardware, select classroom doors, the first floor’s hallway flooring, and any remaining roof areas installed prior to 1999.

“We had noticed some increased leakage in those (older roofing) areas, so we’re looking to address all those issues we had in the past,” says Enge.

They’ll also replace the west bus lane exterior entrance sidewalk so all entrances are wheelchair accessible.

The RRDSB says there will also be maintenance and repair of exterior brick, select roofing areas, and the parking lot.

Enge says construction on one of the washrooms should begin Monday, while the others will remain open to staff and students.

The press release says the project schedule shows completion of most items during the summer months. Since the washroom renovations are too extensive to be completed during that time, the RRDSB says they’ll use a phased approach. This will ensure there are sufficient washrooms available during construction.

The release says renovations are scheduled to begin shortly, with any excessive noise, dust, or smell-producing activities being limited to outside the school day.

Enge says these changes are just phase one of updates coming to FFHS.

“This will be part of a larger, multi-year effort to refresh the building,” he says. “We’re starting with some of the higher-priority items such as accessibility.”

The school last underwent a major addition and renovation effort in 1999 to create the existing facility as it stands now.

Since then, the school has received new boilers, a new fire alarm system, and the installation of Energy Recover Ventilators to improve fresh air intake rates in the winter. Other renewal efforts have involved the replacement of windows and the second-floor hallway flooring.