By Dianne Cornish
For many Waterdown area residents, Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, will be remembered as the day local residents faced winter’s first icy blast of the season, but for members of the school community of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School, it will hold much happier memories. Last Friday, the new St. Thomas School opened its doors to welcome 240 students, as well as staff, administration and parents.
The event was marked by ceremonies and entertainment, with close to 550 guests gathering in the new, over-sized gymnasium equipped with surround sound and a stage, a marked improvement over the smaller and less elaborately equipped gym that the students left behind at the old school on Barton Street.
The new 64,000-square-foot, two-storey school, located on a six-acre parcel of land at 170 Skinner Road in the heart of the Waterdown South subdivision, took 13 months to build, but was first planned about six years ago.
“It may be cloudy outside, but the sunshine in this room glows for an eternity,” said an exuberant Gino Pizzoferrato, the school’s principal, while addressing the crowd at the Grand Opening Prayer Breakfast. After thanking all those in the community who worked together to make the $12.2-million school a reality, he turned to the students and said of the new building, “Treat it well and take care of it. It belongs to you.”
Other speakers made reference to the patience required of students, parents and school staff as the building took shape.
“I believe it’s been almost six years,” said Flamborough’s Catholic school trustee Carolyn Cornale, as she talked about the project’s planning stages.
“I’m glad to say it’s finally done and we’re here,” said St. Thomas School Council chair Rick Stys.
Guests and students were treated to a piece of cake during the festivities, which also included a prayer led by Father Wayne Lobsinger, priest of St. Thomas parish, and an entertainment program featuring the musical talents of students and teachers. Each classroom participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, with guided tours conducted afterward.
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board chair Patrick J. Daly did not attend Friday’s festivities but issued a congratulatory message. “If we’re to support our culture of excellence, we must be prepared to invest in the proper resources and facilities to provide the best opportunities for our students and staff,” he said in a prepared statement.
Students and the school community were the focus of last week’s grand opening celebration. An official blessing and dedication will take place later in the school year.
Pizzoferrato, who arrived on the scene four years ago just as the project secured funding and was entering the blueprint stage, said Monday, “The facility speaks for itself; it was worth waiting for.”
Beside the newness of the facility and the extra space (the new school is three times larger than the old one), the most marked difference between the old and the new is the new technology incorporated into the new building. Front-row sound which enables the students to hear their teachers no matter where they sit in class is featured in all 25 classrooms, SMART boards and document cameras are also located in the classrooms, and energy-efficient heating and cooling exists throughout, as do lighting and daylight sensors to reduce energy consumption. Other features include a two-storey entrance atrium, a 2,000-square-foot library, a chapel, a science room, special education room and Snoezelen room.
New to the JK-Grade 8 school this year is the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten (FDELK) program, which has two of its four rooms running at the new school. A teacher and ECE (Early Childhood Education) professional are stationed in each of the new Kindergarten classes.