After 18 months of construction, Winkler's new $30 million elementary school opened its doors to students this morning.

Pine Ridge Elementary School Principal Renae Hildebrand says the first morning went smoothly.

"We've created a relaxed atmosphere for the kids because even when they come to a familiar school on a normal day they're anxious, this is a brand new school they've never been in, but the morning went really well," she says. "The kids were calm, they found their spots and they were welcomed by their teachers."

She notes the staff has been working together since March, adding "they've been amazing, they've been very positive while putting up with a lot of stress because moving into a new building and working around the tradespeople is very difficult."

Despite setbacks, after a fire broke out on the school roof in April, construction finished on schedule. Hildebrand thanked the construction crews and custodial staff for working overtime to prepare the facility ahead of the first day of school. The K-8 school features many floor-length windows to introduce natural light and incorporates neutral colours with wood accents to create a calm classroom setting.

"It's just a beautiful building," she says.

Along with a world-class, energy-efficient facility, Hildebrand says they've also set a new vision for the staff and students. The challenge, she says, is creating a new school culture while bringing together staff from three different teaching environments.

"We needed to figure out, "what is Pine Ridge?" and "how do we want it to look?'"

Purchased in 2009, the land West of 15th St. in Winkler is now occupied by a school ten years later

Pine Ridge brings together a team with a strong background in sports and the arts. "I'd love to start incorporating more dramas, musicals, art pieces, we just have a lot of creative staff," Hildebrand says noting one staffer has published plays that are being performed in Australia and the U.S.

"So we have a lot of talent as staff and I'd really love to see everyone using their strengths to the fullest."

In the end, Hildebrand says their goal is to nurture their students to become good workers, neighbours and citizens. "And that means serving each other, taking responsibility and having integrity."

The new Pine Ridge Elementary School brings Garden Valley School Division to a total of 14 schools, seven rural, seven within the City of Winkler.

The new K-8 facility will alleviate crowding at Winkler Elementary School, allowing J.R Walkof to be converted to a K-3 school and Emerado Centennial School into a grades 4-8 school. Meanwhile, Southwood and Prairie Dale Schools are now catchment placements for students in the Village of Reinfeld.


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