New schools emerging

School buildings are aging and they require renovations. The rising number of students calls for new buildings. Now is a good time to rethink our schools.

Jérémie Harnois

Completing such work requires knowledge of the state of the building stock, designing and planning projects, overseeing construction sites and establishing adequate maintenance programs, while taking into account the needs of the occupants and the technical requirements.

Such tasks present challenges that many education staff members meet by engaging in innovation. School boards, in striving to attain their objectives, have called on internal expertise by hiring, among others, engineers, architects and building technicians. Sometimes, teachers get also involved in the adventure.

Jérémie Harnois1 is an engineer with the Commission scolaire de la Rivière-du-Nord. He believes that it is essential that his employer have the most precise overview possible of the building stock, in order to be able to establish priorities and obtain adequate funding from the government.

For the mechanical engineering specialist, the quality of buildings also has an impact on educational success. It is important to create living environments where concern is shown for air quality, natural lighting and the appropriate management of space.

The importance of sustainable development

Asked about what motivates him at work, Jérémie Harnois explains that when he enters a school, he always wonders whether he would send his own children there. If the answer is no, he and his team tackles what is wrong.

In his view, the lowest bidder is not necessarily the best principle, because future maintenance costs must be taken into account. “In the field of building, long-term planning is essential. Energy costs are a major factor to be considered,” he points out. That is why some 15 geothermal heating projects were implemented in his school board.

Factoring in sustainable development is part of his life philosophy. He believes that the ideal schools of the future will have several features: they will use passive solar heating, they will provide good lighting, they will be equipped with air conditioning, they will reuse rainwater for toilets and they will have green spaces in school yards. “Comfort, energy savings, and respect for the environment are not incompatible. All that is needed is will and the necessary resources,” he says.

Design focused on users’ needs

Laetitia Laborde2 has been an architect at the Commission scolaire Marie-Victorin for six years. She deeply appreciates her professional autonomy. She is responsible for project management, the design of plans and specifications, the supervision of work sites, the design of interiors, and the layout and furnishing of spaces. Her tasks are diverse and that is one reason she loves her work.

The infectiously enthusiastic architect believes that being attentive to the needs of users is of the utmost importance. “My priority is children,” she says. “It is essential to improve their environment. Studies show that an attractive space plays a major role in stimulating children’s awareness and fostering learning. We can design spaces to reflect ergonomic and aesthetic concerns at reasonable cost. All that’s needed is a little imagination.”

Reducing the environmental footprint is a concern in all new buildings where geothermal fields are installed. The window arrangement based on sunlight also helps reduce energy consumption, as does LED lighting. She is proud to be part of a team that innovates and is preparing to build the first three-level wood structure school in North America!

Laetitia Laborde

“The ideal school is above all a place that meets the needs of users. Whether we build a new school or renovate an old one, understanding the teaching practices, the composition of classes and school activities allows us to design spaces and furnishings that are appropriate for new ways of doing things.”

Laetitia Laborde and her colleagues consult teaching, maintenance and technical personnel during project development, which makes a real difference. Unlike private-sector projects, where the considerations of the school team are not a priority, this kind of collaboration anticipates and curtails potential problems with the maintenance and use of facilities at the source.

Mario Girard

Regular maintenance

The renovation and maintenance of schools are also essential to quality of life and avoiding unnecessary expenses. A leaking roof can be very costly if repairs are not done in time. That is one of the responsibilities of Mario Girard,3 a building technician at the Commission scolaire des Rives-du-Saguenay.

Working with engineers and architects, he inspects roofs, estimates cost of work, and updates the physical data of buildings and evacuation plans. He also participates in innovative projects like the construction of a wood structure gymnasium and installing heat recovery units in walls.

Mario Girard is part of a team of technicians who share their skills in areas associated with architecture, heating and civil engineering. “The school building stock in the school board is well maintained, over all. We are proactive. We try to anticipate problems. We favour regional products and we help complete some really nice projects,” he says, with pride.

In his view, one of the challenges is to make sure the work is completed according to schedule to avoid any disturbance of school activities.

Energy savings

Teachers also lead cutting-edge projects. That is the case for Nicolas Busque,4 science teacher in Valcourt. His dream is to make his school the first carbon neutral secondary school in Québec.

A few years ago, he got his students involved in an evaluation of greenhouse gases. “We realized that we were producing a lot and that we had to reduce our emissions. Members of the school team worked with me to put in place concrete actions. The students also planted oak trees near the school, and even at home,” he points out. What’s more, students in a master’s environmental studies program at the Université de Sherbrooke based their work on his studies on greenhouse gas emissions and produced similar results.

After examining a variety of solutions for reducing the École Odyssée’s environmental footprint, Nicolas Busque, with help from his father Laurier Busque, developed a passive solar heating wall that received support from the school board and for which he won a grant. The wall is now in operation and his students regularly evaluate the energy that has been saved. Since the project was implemented, they have reduced GHG emissions by 5 tons.

Nicolas Busque

“Parents enrol their children at our school because of our educational project,” he proudly says. For the ardent defender of sustainable development, the schools of tomorrow must educate eco-citizens: people who are involved in their communities and who are aware of environmental issues. With the support of the school administration, pedagogical counsellors and his colleagues, he is organizing a conference on the theme of environmental education to be held next spring.

Richard Bergevin

A community that likes to get involved

Richard Bergevin5 recognizes the exceptional commitment of Nicolas Busque. “In Estrie, people are creative. A few years ago, some well-intentioned teachers, with the help of volunteers, designed mezzanines in certain classrooms to create a reading space. The project was very successful. The structures had to be dismantled, however, because they did not comply with the building code. It created disappointment.”

He believes that if engineers and architects had been associated with the project from the outset, the problem likely would have been avoided.

Richard Bergevin would like to see the solutions formulated by teachers given greater consideration in construction projects. He is not opposed to ideas for schools of the future from outside sources, such as proposed by the Education Minister with the Lab-École project.

“If the Lab-École project has given rise to a societal debate about the importance of providing quality school infrastructures that are in good condition, then that’s positive. On the other hand, greater consideration should be given to the innovative ideas of school staff and their expertise should be more fully recognized, as should the added value of having specialized personnel in the school system. All of the school boards should adopt this path to make sure that such projects truly reflect the needs of students and the people who practise education in everyday life,” he concludes.


1 Jérémie Harnois is a member of the Syndicat des professionnelles et professionnels de l’éducation de Laurentides-Lanaudière (SPPELL-CSQ).
2 Laetitia Laborde is a member of the Syndicat des professionnelles et professionnels de la Montérégie (SPPM-CSQ).
3 Mario Girard is a member of the Syndicat du personnel de soutien de la Jonquière (SPSSJ-CSQ).
4 Nicolas Busque is a member of the Syndicat de l’enseignement de l’Estrie (SEE-CSQ).
5 Richard Bergevin is the President of the Syndicat de l’enseignement de l’Estrie (SEES-CSQ).


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