Publish at February 28 2023 Updated February 28 2023

The Lab-School concept extended to existing schools. No need to rebuild everything.

The physical conversion of schools and pedagogy: facilitating change. The case of the Éboulements school

Multipurpose room and adjustable tables

Interview with François Demers, principal of Leonce Boivin School in the municipality of Les Éboulements in the Charlevoix region of Quebec.


In the 1950s, in the midst of the post-war "Baby Boom", the pressure on the educational system in Quebec was very high; the population to be educated had almost doubled in less than 10 years and the Quiet Revolution was coming. Within a few years thousands of schools were built in rural municipalities, virtually all on the same model, called "Écoles Duplessis", named after the premier of the time.

2017 - The Lab-École project was launched and aimed at designing schools that fostered the full development of students. The project is challenging and has led to the development of a new concept of schools, pedagogically rich and humanly enjoyable. Which is all well and good when it comes to building new schools, but what about the old ones?

Due to the rural exodus, virtually all schools in rural areas are underutilized; as a result, none of these communities will ever see a new school. Will they be condemned to second-rate schools? As the aging building stock requires significant investment, it became apparent that the problem could turn into an opportunity. The Charlevoix School Service Center (CSS) decided on a pilot project to transform one school into a model school, based on Lab-École principles. It remained to choose which one.

Thot Cursus

How was the choice of École Léonce Boivin des Éboulements for this pilot project decided?

François Demers

The team at École Léonce Boivin was used to being innovative at the pedagogical level, was doing decompartmentalization (all groups mixed from kindergarten to 6th grade (1,2,3,4,5,6) ), was already carrying out pedagogical projects in the environment, in science...  and its reputation was known.

As it was a matter of requalifying the building according to new pedagogies, the openness of the staff was an essential condition in the framework of a pilot project.

Thot Cursus

Was there any form of resistance from the staff to the announced changes?

François Demers

Not at all. The entire process was done in collaboration with staff and the director of material resources Jérémie Forgues of the CSS. There were many iterations, teachers detailed their needs and brought their experience to bear in their recommendations to the architects and designers. The success of this kind of project depends a lot on the collaboration of the people in place. You start from where they are and how far they are willing to go. Every environment is different and you have to take that into account.

Thot Cursus

Was there any training for staff in relation to the new framework?

François Demers

Yes and no. In fact, most of the pedagogical practices now facilitated were already in practice long before, however, we can now take them further, make them evolve; so training and exchange sessions have been set up around flexible furniture, flexible classrooms, collaboration between classes, always with the idea of better taking advantage of the new possibilities.

Thot Cursus

What are the main differences between "before" and "after" the requalification of the spaces

François Demers

A lot of walls have been removed. The heat on the south side warms the classrooms on the north side, all areas are more user-friendly and multi-functional, technologies are integrated, active furniture is accessible (variable height tables, exercisers, adjustable furniture), storage spaces are adapted to the children's sizes and needs... inert pedagogical equipment such as the graphic wall (large whiteboard with dotted grid), Lego space, reading space, etc., are accessible to all.

The large spaces allow for more grouping activities, the kitchen lab allows for more science (and also cooking) activities, the greenhouse will soon be operational, in fact we are witnessing a change of scale; there are more possibilities, what used to be done before is now done on a larger scale and better, with more quality and engagement. There is more participation.

Now that the partitions between the classes can be opened, we also see more co-teaching activities (2 classes together with 2 teachers sharing the tasks), in fact, the partitions between the classes are almost always open. The atmosphere is friendly. 

At the level of the students, in fact of everyone, we can say that "when it's beautiful, we take better care of it"; respect is greater in general. The sense of ownership is higher; a student feels that it is his school and he takes care of it.

In the transformations, the first phase was to change the schoolyard which is now a model... with the effect that the municipality agrees to invest in it to make it an intergenerational environment, facilities for the 0-4 years will be added; moreover we will soon build outdoor classrooms and also facilities for the seniors, rest and play area. The municipality also takes care of the gardens, which are maintained during the summer and taken over by the school in the fall.

Thot Cursus

Since its transformation, has the attractiveness of the School and even the village of Les Éboulements increased?

François Demers

The region is very large, so the proportion of "out-of-basin" students is low, people don't store around for their school like they do in the city, however, new families who settle in know that the school in Les Éboulements has nothing to envy to those of larger cities. As such, young parents are sensitive to this.

Thot Cursus

What recommendations would you make to a school principal who would be interested in embarking on such a project?

François Demers

As far as I'm concerned, I would say that you have to find the right balance between consulting and moving the project forward. At times we were all talking and deciding everything. It is better to agree on the orientations and let those whose job it is to make proposals. Otherwise, everyone feels they are growing an architectural talent and too much time is wasted on details. That didn't stop us from making some mistakes, but most were able to be corrected as the work progressed.

We lived in the school while the work was being done. Some periods were more tense; some tension is to be expected during critical school periods. Provide valves.

Multipurpose room

Lego Wall

Kitchen Laboratory

Activity in progress...


A revamped school for Les Éboulements students -  Lisiane Tremblay - Le Charlevoisien - November 2022

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