It's the dawn of a new era for north Etobicoke's two Catholic high schools.
A $34-million investment by the Toronto Catholic District School Board has put an end to overcrowding and portables; now students gain "black box" theatre studios and state-of-the-art "dry" science labs to enable computer-based experiments.
Monsignor Percy Johnson Catholic Secondary School opened the doors last Wednesday to its shiny new $22-million, three-storey school flush with natural light, wireless routers for Internet access, a six-lane track and full-sized football and soccer fields.
About 650 Father Henry Carr students expect to move into their new location - a $12-million retrofitted Marian Academy on Martin Grove Road - in coming months. A labour strike in spring delayed the opening of both schools.
A new provincial government funding formula that allowed school boards' autonomy in their spending made possible both projects, said Ken Cochrane, chief architect with the TCDSB.
The smell of fresh paint and new carpet still lingered in the air at Monsignor Percy Johnson Monday, as workers outside dodged rain showers and laid fresh sod.
"Wow. It's just amazing," said Jackie Avdichuk, 17, adding her favourite feature is the natural light in classrooms.
Student council president Mauro Caserio, 17, likes the new construction course, which teaches plumbing and electricity. The school also offers student leadership programs and cosmetology.
Students boast about their new building on the social networking website, Facebook.
Grade 7 and 8 students and parents got a sneak peek last night at the school's open house.
A shining feature - a full-sized OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association) regulation basketball court and double gymnasium. At the former Johnson - a converted public elementary school - the gym was too small to host basketball games. Even home games had to be played at the competitor's school.
The opening ends a two-year daily caravan of 13 buses and one late bus that would transport Johnson students to a temporary site, the board's former Regina Pacis school in the Hwy. 400-Jane Street area.
"It's sheer excitement to be back in the community," said principal Tony Augello during a school tour. "This is something the community has worked hard for and deserves. It's a facility where the kids can grow academically, spiritually and physically."
The community advocated at the TCDSB for a new school for more than two decades.
At Father Henry Carr, the Martin Grove Road building's retrofit includes a new main entrance, central community atrium, cafeteria, drama studio, and state-of-the-art technology labs, including three automotive bays.
It is a regional centre for a program known as congregated advanced placement that allows students to gain university credits while in high school. Students choose from a list of courses, then in Grade 12 write an external exam to qualify to receive a university credit.
"We've always said we have these kids at our school," principal Michael Rossetti said yesterday. "AP gives them a great opportunity and it showcases them for their academic talent. It gives them confidence they can compete with anyone, anywhere."
An open house for Grade 8 students and parents takes place next Monday (Nov. 17) at the new Carr school, 1760 Martin Grove Rd. (at Finch Avenue West).
Carr administrators welcome alumni back to the old Panorama Court school on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. for a 'Goodbye to the Old Carr Building' pub night. Tickets are $10 at the door.
There, alumni will learn details of the Carr stadium project to build an artificial turf field complete with full lighting.
"I think some (alumni) would like to buy their old locker face, if I would sell it," Rossetti said with a laugh.