A heritage advocacy group wants Victoria city council to issue a protection order preventing premature demolition of the historic Bank Street School in the South Jubilee neighbourhood.
Ken Johnson, president of the Hallmark Heritage Society, says an interim order would buy time for council and residents to gather more information without fear of the building being torn down in the meantime.
“They’re rushing headlong toward demolition, so I would like them to utilize their powers to ask for a 60-day stay on any potential demolition of the school,” he said. “That would allow for more thoughtful consideration of its value to the community.”
The Greater Victoria School District is considering tearing down the 108-year-old school to allow for expansion of adjacent Sundance Elementary, which is slated to reopen with kindergarten to Grade 5 next fall. More space will be needed at some point to accommodate projected enrollment growth, the district says.
Both schools require significant seismic upgrades and staff say the district could ask the provincial government for money to do both or to upgrade Sundance and demolish the heritage-registered Bank Street School.
The school board’s operations committee received a report on the issue Monday night, but is waiting to hear from Victoria council before moving forward.
Victoria councillors have ordered their own assessment of the school’s condition and market value to see if they should step in to save the school. They could block demolition by designating the building a heritage site, but are wary of potential compensation costs if they make such a move against the will of the school district.
The city’s heritage advisory panel, meanwhile, says the school, designed by architect D.C. Frame, has “high heritage value.” It recommends that the city work with the school district and come up with a plan to preserve it.
“In the panel’s opinion, the building is an integral part of the social and physical fabric of the neighbourhood,” a city report states.
“The panel believes it is in reasonable condition and could be creatively rehabilitated. Members believed that demolition would be inconsistent with the school district’s stewardship of its other heritage-registered schools.”
The panel added that the school’s accessibility issues as well as the presence of hazardous materials and old mechanical systems are common problems that owners of other heritage buildings have overcome.
In South Jubilee, early responses to a neighbourhood association survey appear to show strong support for saving the school. However, “it is clear from the survey comments that there is not enough information available on the redevelopment options for respondents to have an informed opinion,” the city report says.
For instance, the report says, some people are under the mistaken belief that saving Bank school will prevent construction of a new school with community facilities. In fact, the school district has no plans to build a new school on the site and has only committed to a modest expansion of Sundance using modular buildings, the report says.
“They have not developed any architectural plans and are still waiting for funding. This makes it difficult for area residents to understand benefits and trade-offs of saving or demolishing the school.”