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24 Hours to Save Ecole Connaught Community School

24 Hours to Save Ecole Connaught Community School
  
  

 

Why this is important to me

One of Canada’s most historic public schools – Connaught School, located in the heart of Regina’s Cathedral Village – is facing demolition and replacement with a ‘modern’ open concept school.

The public school board kept the recommendation hidden from public view until Friday at 4:30 p.m., when it appeared on the agenda for their next Tuesday board meeting – leaving just a few days for the public to know what the plan is.

We have 24 hours to convince the board to stop their headlong rush to the wrecking ball.
The Regina Public School Board will consider this recommendation at its Tuesday, February 26 meeting:

That, in order to satisfy the Ministry of Education’s requirements for advancing to Stage 2/3 in the provincial capital planning process, and based upon the information and options outlined in the State 1 Facility Study (dated May 31, 2012) and in consideration of the Ministry directive to provide “the most economically viable long term solution that is equitable and ensures the provision of sustainable educational programming and infrastructure in the neighbourhood,” the Ministry of Education be advised of the Board’s preference to pursue the rebuild of École Connaught Community School (incorporating major heritage elements from the existing building) on either the current site or, dependent upon current site limitations, on an alternate suitable site located in the École Connaught Community School attendance area.”


The main concern:

Basically, a decision is being made about a major public asset without serious study of alternatives, or consideration of the value of historic schools to student learning and community cohesion. A decision to demolish or significantly alter a nationally significant historical site and highly regarded learning/community space should not be made in haste with insufficient information. New rebuilds are not suitable for all kids, especially kids with learning difficulties. The kids like their school!

Some good questions:

Last May, the board’s engineering consultant wrote, “prior to any decision regarding proceeding with a renewal process, we recommend that a more detailed investigation program be undertaken to assess the condition of the building structure.” Where is the investigation?

In a report titled Initial Assessment (note the word ‘initial’) the board’s heritage consultant recommended a “full heritage conservation plan” be completed to allow rational decision-making about the future of the school. Where is the plan?

In April the Connaught School Community Council asked the board for a decision flowchart that “included major decision points and major consultation opportunities.” Why did the board carry on discussions behind the scenes, and hide the most major decision item of all until the last possible minute?

According to best practice guidelines laid out by the U.S. National Trust, a feasibility study on school renovation/reconstruction should never be led by a firm that might bid on the project. Where is our independent audit of construction and design estimates?

Community members have called for a non-market valuation of the existing building, including calculation of heritage value. The heritage consultant also recommended this in a meeting with the school council. Why has this important study not been done?

Community members called for a full costing of environmental impacts and down-loaded costs such as city landfill stress. Where is the cost accounting of this footprint?

The consultant’s report said Connaught performs poorly as a modern leaning environment. Where is the research base for this statement? Where is the research base to support open concept schools and ‘learning communities’ of up to 100 students sharing a single space, as proposed in new school designs?

Why are new school buildings designed to be portable, and what does this mean for community stability and the continued presence of a school?

In meetings, community members expressed an overwhelming preference for a respectful, intelligent renovation of the building as it is, with some upgrades. This does not square with the options put forward for either new construction, or a renovation that guts the entire building, hiking up costs. Why was no mid-range, sensible option prepared?

In written submissions and conversations, it's clear kids like their unique school and think of it as a good place to learn.

Some of the things people said they do want: a breakfast program, smaller class sizes, more daycare options, cultural sensitivity, freedom for teachers to teach creatively. Where is the concern for these priorities?

The heritage assessment identified the major character-defining elements as: wide, spacious hallways; terrazzo floors with marble baseboards; oak and wrought iron staircases; original beam and plaster ceiling, and; the manner in which the building is situated in its surrounding environment. In other words, not cornices or a gargoyles, but the total essence of the building. How can these key features possibly be retained as “major heritage elements” in either a new building or a renovation that demolishes these elements? What does removal or destruction of major heritage elements mean for adaptive re-use? Is adaptive re-use even on the horizon if the school is shuttered, or will the City want the property cleared for sale (a very likely scenario)?


Renovation versus new construction

As the report notes, typically renovation costs are determined at 70 per cent of new builds. But not in this case.

Renovation estimate: $23,194,580
New build estimate: $18,880,064

The new build estimate does not include land purchase if the school is built elsewhere.

The ‘renovation’ estimate includes $440,000 for the demolition of 4,000 m2 – which is almost the entirety of a 4,452 m2 building. What kind of ‘renovation’ is that? Where is the sensible, mid-scale renovation people wanted?

Minus the needed structural repairs estimated at $6.25 million, there is nearly $17 million of adjustable budget space to reduce the renovation budget by devising a more modest plan that keeps the integrity of the building.

Further information:

A repository of related documents and articles about school architecture can be found here: http://realrenewal.org/liberty-4a1eb9873c83a.htm

Some recent articles on the style of school to replace Connaught:

School House Consulting:
http://educhatter.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/open-concept-schools-why-is-the-failed-experiment-making-a-comeback/

The Globe and Mail
http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canadian-schools-adopt-old-style-architecture/article4519536/?service=mobile

Posted February 25, 2013
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