Early assignment for Chilliwack’s Cascade Christian: get the school ready

Cascade Christian school makes the big move from Salvation Army Church to their permanent home at the old UFV site in Chilliwack

Grade 6 Cascade Christian School student Seth Hampson stains picnic tables for his new school.

Grade 6 Cascade Christian School student Seth Hampson stains picnic tables for his new school.

For the first time in 25 years, Cascade Christian School has a home to call its own.

It was just last fall when the school was faced with a golden opportunity, to move into UFV’s former health sciences building. The catch? The small private school needed to raise at least $100,000 toward the $2.5 million purchase price in order to secure the lease.

It was a long shot, but they aimed for it anyway. All fundraising efforts were ramped up, and all funds given to the school went into the cause. The response from the community was overwhelmingly supportive, and within short order they were able to sign on the dotted line.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime that we could not have taken on without the people.”

And earlier this month, they finally got to move into their new school.

The entire school community turned out on Aug. 13 in a massive work bee.

“We’re calling it a barn raising,” laughed principal Ryan Morrow.

The building, which had sat vacant for years since UFV moved south to the Canada Lands, was once again teeming with life.  Sounds of construction, cleaning, moving, and even hallway chatter between students filled the air. Two Salvation Army vans were busy moving school supplies back and forth between Cascade’s old home at the Salvation Army church, and their new home.

Computers, desks, chairs, boxes of books, files, games, puzzles, and various teaching materials were quickly offloaded and brought into the building by an excited team of teachers, students, parents, board members, and even Cascade school alumni. Every member of the Cascade community has lent a hand in some way, said board chair Josh Greggain.

Grade 6/7 teacher Mark Ediger has experience drywalling, as do several of the parents, and they’ve been busy all summer getting the walls ready for September.

He smiled as he worked, eager for it to be done. Eager, after so many decades, to welcome Cascade students to a place of their own. For the last five years, Cascade has used space in the Salvation Army. Prior to that, they were in the Chilliwack Alliance Church.

“We’ve been sharing (Salvation Army’s) space since 2011, and they’ve been great partners,” says Greggain. “We’ve had the opportunity to work alongside with them, we’ve shared their gym, we’ve used their classrooms, so we’re excited to be giving their space back to them for the good things they do like the hampers.”

The board is excited to see teachers able to claim their rooms in the school, and administration to have their own offices.

“Our teachers have always worked on a very limited budget in a very limiting space,” says Greggain. Now, the school can settle into its own home. It’s a move that will accommodate Cascade’s steady growth.

“Some of the teachers have been with Cascade for 20 years, and now they really have classrooms to call their own.”

Back in 2011, the school had 67 students. Last year, they had 112. They can grow to almost double that size in this new space, but don’t aim to do it all at once.

Greggain says don’t want to lose that small-school feel, and the logistics of growing quickly are overwhelming. Their plan is to grow by about 20 students a year, and they look toward one day building a gymnasium as an addition that could also include more classroom space.

“We are now in a place where we can grow,” Greggain said.

But that’s down the road. For now, they’re busy setting up shop. The former health sciences building isn’t ‘old’ at all. It was built 25 years ago, and was built to last many more decades. Being able to save the building from the wrecking ball as the UFV site is redeveloped for housing was a bonus for the school.

“We are taking educational space and repurposing it. It’s a solid building and was meant to last,” Greggain said. “And there’s a legacy here. Some of our parents went to UFV and were nursing students.”

This new generation of Cascade students are making the school their own, though. Grade 6 student Seth Hampson was one of the many kids lending a hand. He took on the job of re-staining all the benches and picnic tables to a deep, dark brown. Other students curled up on pillows and rugs in their new classrooms with some summer reading, quietly awaiting the arrival of another van load of goodies.

Major Orest Goyak of the Salvation Army was one of the many volunteer movers.

“It’s been a great partnership,” he said. “It’s sad to see them go, but also awesome to see them go because of this opportunity they’ve been given.”

Chilliwack’s private schools are growing in size in lockstep with public schools.

When the news came out that Cascade was moving into UFV, to grow, to preserve the educational space, and to realize their dream, they never expected such an overwhelming response.

So when people started walking in off the street with large donations, they were moved.

“People walked off the street with a thousand dollars and said here,” Greggain said. “We believe in what you’re doing.”

They’re also excited to be investing in Chilliwack’s growth in that area. Greggain has already heard from some parents who are hoping to relocate to the housing being planned behind the school. That will include a rental apartment, detached houses, and townhouses.

“I hope we’re part of the positive change,” Greggain said.