It was a long time coming, but students and staff of Bay d'Espoir Academy on Newfoundland's south coast are settling into their new surroundings after arson left them without a school to call their own in 2017.
"It has been a remarkable experience, I have to say, for the staff, for the students, everyone," principal Connie Willcott told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning on Tuesday.
"We have been tremendously blessed with this beautiful building. To walk in through the doors that first day, that was a feeling like no other I've experienced, a feeling of elation, and awe and excitement."
While the first day of classes inside the new school were held Oct. 19, there's still a buzz in the community over what had been the highly anticipated completion of the building and a new home.
In 2017, Bay d'Espoir Academy in Milltown-Head of Bay d'Espoir was set on fire, along with the town hall and an RCMP detachment. In January 2018, Donald Craig MacHaight, who lived in the area, was sentenced to four years in prison for the crimes.
The fire displaced the school community, which relocated to the community centre in St. Alban's, formerly Holy Cross School.
From the windows of their temporary location, students and staff watched the new K-12 Bay d'Espoir Academy be constructed piece by piece over the last few years just across the street, 17 kilometres south of the original school.
"The anticipation and the emotions that came along with it were just very overwhelming, but it has been a great three weeks," Willcott said. "We're still settling in, of course, but we're doing very well."
A fresh facility
Willcott said students were in awe upon entering their new school for the first time. She said they were "enthralled with all of the bells and whistles" that come with a new school, with some equating the experience to being in a larger city. The school has about 200 students.
Everything in the new facility is brand new, automated and state of the art, Willcott said, and students spent much of the first day students exploring their new school.
"I think probably one of the surprises for them would have been the corridors. There are huge corridors in this building. Where we were in our borrowed building for almost five years, the corridors there were very narrow," she said.
"When you first walk in and you look down that big corridor they were just in awe."
She said there are also new areas and opportunities that weren't offered in either of the previous locations, including a home economics room with five ovens and a nicely designed library and art room.
Making the move to a new school in the middle of a school year had its own challenges. Willcott said preparations were made, but teachers were using only emergency supplies in anticipation of moving day.
Still, she said, each step of the journey, from a burned-down school house to a brand-new facility, brought the students closer together.
"They're very excited, and they feel very important. They're in these learning spaces that are something we've never had," said Willcott.
"It's just spectacular, inspiring. You don't even feel like you're at work or at school when you're up there."