David Parker: Around Town — Renfrew Educational Services



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Fifty years ago, Janice McTighe showed her concern for children with special needs by dreaming of establishing a school to develop unique educational and therapeutic opportunities to enrich these children’s lives.

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By 1974 she had founded Renfrew Educational Services, which has grown to become an innovative, internationally recognized approach for teaching students with physical and cognitive special needs.

Today, Renfrew has schools at four locations within the city, all with a waiting list of children wanting to go to school. Executive director McTighe still aches with concern for them and is now pushing for a new school that will be built along the 1A Highway close to the Bearspaw Lifestyle Centre.

To date, Renfrew schools have only been able to accommodate students up to Grade 6. This year the plan is to keep them into Grade 7, and the new school has been designed to accept students right through to Grade 12.

A search for the right piece of land has been a priority for the past couple of years so McTighe and her board were excited to find and be able to purchase the 12 acres just outside city limits. It allows for a 60,000 square foot building and plenty of space for a playground and organized outdoor activities.

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The location offers great traffic routes for the busy Renfrew buses, easily reached from anywhere within the city and also able to welcome kids from Cochrane and surrounding areas.

Kasian Architecture has designed the new facility around the spaces that the organization’s long experience has deemed most necessary, plus the additional needs to accommodate high school students. These will include special art and science rooms for working on projects, as well as rooms with no walls where life skills will be taught to help students to look after themselves. A kitchen, bedroom and bathroom will teach skills such as how to use a dishwasher, toast bread and make the bed.

McTighe and her staff are excited to be able to plan a new school that will be so welcomed by 250 to 300 students and their parents, but a good percentage of the estimated $21 million cost has to be raised before a shovel enters the ground.

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Always the optimistic cheerleader, McTighe says, “That’s only 200 kind and caring people willing to give a donation of $100,000.” Now she has a to change her math as one donor with a generous heart has already offered $3 million specifically towards the building of the much-needed school.

Jim Reid, who recently retired as a managing partner of Brookfield Asset Management, is chair of the Renfrew Educational Services Foundation Board and has taken on the additional role as chair of the capital campaign. A major fundraiser has been the very successful annual Renfrew Gala, which has been missed the last couple of years but which McTighe says is already being organized for next March.

Invitations to bid to build the new school were offered to four local contractors and although all submitted excellent proposals, EllisDon tipped the scales because of its enthusiasm to work with Renfrew.

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Sean Dekoning, EllisDon vice-president and Calgary area manager, says the company has been a huge supporter of Renfrew for many years and he was heartened by the number of staff who asked to work on the project.

Like a number of young people from Ontario, Dekoning came west from his home in Toronto to work and ski in Banff. But, after five years he realized that he needed to settle down to a career and took the civil engineer technology program at SAIT. He began working with EllisDon as an estimator and after gaining experience on sites was invited back into the office as chief estimator.

In his newest role, he is responsible for a company with over 200 salaried staff and projects amounting to $500 million annually. Current EllisDon projects include the Dorian Hotel, the West leg of the new ring road at Stoney Trail and the Trans Canada Highway, renovation at the Peter Lougheed Hospital, Glenbow revitalization, and the expansion to Vivo for Healthier Generations.


David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at [email protected] .

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