Last June, construction crews arrived at Redeemer Christian High School (RCHS) in Ottawa— marking the start of an important phase in the school’s 2.2 million dollar expansion project. Today, the school building includes a gym twice its original size, an expanded cafeteria, and a new science, drama and music studio.
Faculty and staff at the school are both proud and excited about their transformed facility, says RCHS Principal, Chuck Schoenmaker. Although the building can now accommodate more people than it ever could before, the aim of the project was to create meaningful space, he says, not just more space.
What started out as a large unfinished storage area on the main level of the school now serves as a large drama and music studio. A fresh coat of paint on the walls has converted the room into a professional black box, making it an ideal place for drama students to practice and perform. The room is now located towards the back of the school, right next to a large and ‘proper’ storage space for costumes, props and musical instruments.
“The timing of this is good,” says RCHS Promotion Coordinator, Marie Cooper, “seeing as we did just expand our music program within the last couple of years.”
Since the renovation, several programs at the school now have the equipment and space they need to thrive. The school’s new biology lab, complete with a south facing window, will allow classes to participate in a more hands on style of learning and grow their own plants. When students aren’t busy filling pots with soil, they can easily congregate around a single demonstration or experiment, thanks to the two new work stations at the back of the classroom.
With its soaring ceilings, shiny floors and brand new score board, the school’s renovated gym has proven to be the most exciting part of the expansion for many RCHS students. Practically speaking, it offers a number of advantages too—like an electric door that divides the room into two, allowing groups of students to practice different sports at the same time. The gym has also made it possible for RCHS to host its own home basket ball games, something that was never doable before.
“Because our school was heavily involved in the city high school league, we always had to go out for games,” says Cooper. “The first couple of games that we hosted before the Christmas break were so exciting! The bleachers were packed. School spirit was at an all time high.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the gym has already been booked by local sports clubs for almost every weeknight until the end of the Summer. Other areas in the school are drawing interest from the outside community; like the new drama studio and renovated cafeteria, both of which have caught the attention of churches in the area. From the start, Schoenmaker had hoped spaces like these would serve as gathering places for visitors, and as environments that would foster social interaction.
“We have a beautiful facility,” he says “and that’s because of the faithfulness of the RCHS community”. That faithfulness was evident throughout many stages of the expansion process—Not only did volunteers help out with construction and clean up, they laid the entirety of the gym floor. RCHS alumni also offered financial support, donating over $70,000 to the “Cut Mr. Naftel’s Hair Fund”. Dave Naftel, Vice Principal at the school, had been growing out his hair for months, and promised to have it cut if alumni raised enough money for the expansion. On January 11th, the school community cheered loudly as his red curls fell to the floor. His locks have now been donated to a charity that makes wigs for children who have lost their hair from cancer treatment.
“It’s been encouraging to know our school’s long-time members and supporters, as well as our current families, were behind this venture one hundred percent,” said Schoenmaker in a recent RCHS press release. “The people who came before us worked hard to get us this building and we need to keep looking ahead so we can make a difference for future generations of students.”
For Schoenmaker, the expansion was never simply ‘a bricks and mortar’ project. “It’s about embracing kids” he says, “the building is an extension of who we are as Christians in our community.”