Demolition begins at Lord Kitchener elementary school

Lord Kitchener's old elementary school building has stood for close to 90 years, but it won't be around much longer.

Crews started demolition work Monday morning to knock down the 1924-era building, along with an addition constructed in 1961. The job is expected to take up to two weeks.

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The old school is no longer needed since an $18.7 million seismic upgrade and partial replacement school opened on the property this fall. A 1914 standalone wooden schoolhouse was saved, relocated and upgraded.

Hazardous materials were removed before equipment began clawing down the 1961 portion of the building Monday. The rest of the windowless two-storey structure took on a ghostly appearance while awaiting destruction.

Heritage Vancouver's Donald Luxton told the Courier conservationists are pleased the 1914 building was saved. The organization opposed the demolition of the 1924 wing.

Luxton added that Heritage Vancouver is happy another school, Queen Mary elementary, is being saved and seismically upgraded, but conservationists remain concerned about a number of other schools.

"This is still being done on a case-by-case basis and we are still waiting for the VSB to develop a coordinated, overall plan for the seismic issues, rather than picking buildings off one by one," he wrote in an email.

Rosemary Love, Kitchener's principal, said the new building is safer and has a better layout.

"[The old school] was very solid, but it was very traditional, which for some is fine, but we've moved into a school, which is very untraditional in terms of layout. Classrooms [in the old school] were designed to have one teacher in one classroom and that's how it worked. This new school is designed so that four or five teachers are working together in smaller learning communities."

Kelly Isford-Saxon, the VSB's project manager, said there wasn't much to salvage from the old building. "On the interior there wasn't a lot of architectural, ornamental woodwork," she said.

Love agreed.

"There were things that people wanted just for sentimental value, but they weren't beautiful. Like the banisters, for example. They weren't ones that you'd say, oh, they'd be fabulous if they got refurbished and put into the new building or somewhere else," she said. "But things like the bricks - people were constantly asking us if we were going to be restoring the bricks or doing something with the bricks, and we are."

The school is using some of the bricks in a fundraiser. Individuals can pledge $275 to the Outdoor Classroom Brick Campaign and a brick from the old school will be salvaged, refurbished, engraved with their name, and incorporated into the design of the new outdoor classroom.

When asked if she thinks it'll feel strange once the 1924 building is completely knocked down, Love said: "Depends who you ask. For me, no. If you ask the secretary, she's actually feeling quite sad today about it. I'm not feeling sad. From the outside it was a beautiful building, but for me what it provided for teachers and students in terms of environment inside-it needed upgrading for sure. And, we've kept the heritage building as is. It looks exactly the same as it did before_ That was the most important part."

Outside the school, Thomas Nichols, who's lived across the street from Kitchener since 1968, watched the demolition.

"I'm coming to grips with [it being gone]. I was hoping they'd restore it seismically and bring it up to date. The new building, which I've just been through, looks very bright and airy. And it's a different concept than any school I've ever seen before. I gather that's how they want to teach now, so it's probably best in the end that it comes down," he said.

noconnor@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Naoibh

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