Nepean students take notes on Cornerstone project in Westboro

By Claire Keenan – 

Students at Nepean High School are experiencing a change in the community, but are also documenting a part of it for the history books.

Located at the corner of Princeton and Melbourne Avenues is the former Institut Jeanne D’arc. Built in 1989, it was, until recently, the residence of an order of nuns. Currently undergoing renovations, it will become a new location for Cornerstone Housing for Women, a non-profit organization that provides safe and affordable permanent housing for women in Ottawa.

On October 27, Mme. Théorêt’s Grade 10 Technology class and three students from Ms. Smid’s Grade 12 Writer’s Craft class met at the construction site to begin a unique student project. From now until the residence opens in June 2018, this group of students will document the renovation. Photos and text will depict the entire process of transforming the building. The final result will be an exhibit of photos and stories that will also include quotes from interviews with local politicians, Cornerstone, and other major players, and will hopefully remain in the new building to help educate newcomers to Cornerstone and illustrate how their new home came to be.

Students met Joe Zammit, the head of construction at McDonald Brothers Construction, and Sue Garvey, the Executive Director of Cornerstone Housing for Women. Sue recalled how Sister Yvette Papillon, the Director of Les Soeurs de l’institut de Jeanne d’Arc, approached her during initial discussions about the reuse of the building.

Joe Zammit of McDonald Brothers Construction and Sue Garvey, the Executive Director of Cornerstone Housing for Women, took Nepean High School students on a walkthrough of the former Institut Jeanne D’arc. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

“They wanted their home to stay as something that would continue to serve the community and be good for other people,” said Sue. “So, they came to Cornerstone…. and they said, ‘If we managed to find a way to get you this building, would you turn it into something that would serve our community?’”

Explaining how the initial plans and goals for Cornerstone came to be, helped the students understand Cornerstone’s vision. During the initial site walkthrough, Joe and Sue explained the changes in the building’s structure and the reasons behind them. The renovation plan for the interior of the building is significant. The students learned there will be 42 suites, a kitchen, a lounge, as well as offices.

The technology class was equipped with professional cameras and tripods and took photos and video of almost every room. The Writer’s Craft students took notes. As the group weaved through the different floors, scribbles of who said what was put onto paper or typed into a phone, and tucked away until later when it will all be turned into a story that chronicles the construction process.

Nepean High School students on a walkthrough of the former Institut Jeanne D’arc. Photo by Anne Marie Theoret
Nepean High School students on a walkthrough of the former Institut Jeanne D’arc. Photo by Fiona Haugen

Documenting the renovation process and sharing the evolving story of Cornerstone is a year-long task for the students. Getting involved with Cornerstone isn’t a school assignment, but it is certainly an eye-opening experience that will leave a lasting effect on the community.

 Claire Keenan is a grade 12 student at Nepean High School.

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