While teachers elsewhere around Norway were striking on Monday, those in Oslo were unaffected by the labour conflict and opening the doors to many newly renovated classrooms in 14 expanded and modernized schools in the capital. Many of the schools have completely changed their form and function, as part of a massive school improvement project that isn’t finished yet.
The major refurbishing program was necessary to meet demand in a city that’s been ranked as among the fastest-growing in Europe. Norway’s strong economy and population growth means that Oslo continues to attract new residents both from elsewhere in Norway and abroad, and the capital’s schools were criticized for being far too crowded and in a state of neglect.
The school construction and expansion project has been underway for several years but newspaper Aftenposten reported recently how this summer’s flurry of building activity was unique: 14 new or refurbished schools needed to be ready to open their doors for the start of the new school year on August 18, compared to five new schools opened last year.
Oslo’s teachers negotiate their labour contracts separately from the rest of the country, so they’re not involved in a major strike that spread over the rest of Norway this week, disrupting the start of the new school year. In Oslo, teachers were ready to report for preparatory work last week and greet students this week, many of them in entirely new surroundings.
The large Majorstuen School, for example, has undergone a complete rehabilitation in recent years that cost NOK 605 million (USD 100 million). Finishing touches still had to be made this week, but the historic school in one of Oslo’s busiest areas is now able to accommodate 950 elementary- and middle-school-age students. Grefsen School, meanwhile, has undergone a renovation that cost nearly half-a-billion kroner, expanding its capacity from 400 students in the first- to seventh grades to 790 students.
Other schools have changed their character and function, with the old Berg and Fagerborg high schools, for example, converted into elementary schools and their high school students transferred to an expanded and renovated Sogn high school that’s been renamed Blindern, just like the campus of the nearby University of Oslo at Blindern. The renovation cost NOK 209 million and Blindern will continue to offer Berg’s international baccalaureate program, with the school having higher entrance requirements than other schools in Oslo.
The old Hersleb intermediate school in downtown Oslo has also undergone a major renovation costing NOK 503.2 million, and been turned into a high school (called videregåendeskole or simply VGS in Norwegian). Nordstrand high school has been turned into an intermediate school for 540 students while the Nordseter intermediate school is reopening as a combined elementary and intermediate school for grades one through 10.
The major school expansion and renovation project has sought to retain the character of historic buildings, like Hersleb’s which dates from 1922, while refurbishing interiors and building modern additions. The work has been carried out in conjunction with state preservationists and hasn’t been without delays and problems, with some artwork going missing during construction. Most of the work remainied on schedule, however, to avoid disruption of the new school year, and both city and state officials from Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang to Prime Minister Erna Solberg were among those out clipping ribbons at opening ceremonies on Monday.