Carleton School was in the news last year for all the wrong reasons. It was on the Closure hit lit, and just narrowly dodged that threat. The Vancouver School Board has temporarily kept it open, but there is no guarantee of the future of this iconic neighbourhood landmark. Meanwhile, Carleton Hall, our oldest school building, sits deteriorating while there is a valid proposal for its re-use.
What is the threat to Sir Guy Carleton School & Carleton Hall?
Carleton Hall is still facing demolition and the entire school complex is threatened with closure.
Following a fire caused by arson in 2008, the on-going deterioration by water damage to the vacant school and the Vancouver School Board’s inability to finalize an agreement that would see Carleton Hall restored, Vancouver’s oldest school still faces demolition by neglect. The Vancouver School Board has yet to finalize an agreement with the Green Thumb Theatre Company that came forward with a proposal a year ago to cover the cost of restoring this significant building and to use it as office and rehearsal space. As part of their proposal this world-renowned children’s theatre group would offer theatrical experiences to children at Carleton School and in the Collingwood neighbourhood.
Because of a declining enrolment, the Vancouver School Board has been discussing the closure of the Sir Guy Carleton School for quite some time. At the December 14, 2010 meeting the Board supported the motion “That the Vancouver Board of Education not proceed with further closure discussions with respect to the five schools under consideration of potential closure planned for June 30, 2011 (including Carleton)” and “That the Vancouver Board of Education direct staff to work with the Carleton community to create a Neighbourhood Learning Centre”.
Carleton School has been given another reprieve but in no way has the eventual closure of this important heritage school been stopped.
In 1986, when the Vancouver School Board attempted to close down Carleton School, the community organized to save the school and in the process convinced the Board of the need for retention of this significant heritage site.
In March 2008, Carleton Hall was set ablaze by an arsonist and the kindergarten classes had to be relocated due to fire damage. Until the fire in 2008, Carleton Hall had the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating school building in Vancouver. Since the fire, the school has sat vacant and has experienced increased damage due to moisture penetration and lack of maintenance.
The Ministry of Education turned down Vancouver School Board proposals to restore the building for future use as a kindergarten classroom and an early childhood education centre. The Ministry cited declining enrollment and too much empty space all over the east side as the reason for the decision. The Ministry, which holds the insurance policy on all school buildings, announced that it would not pay for the necessary repairs to the building.
The Vancouver School Board faced coming up with the difference between the $75,000 cost of demolition and the $625,000 estimated cost to repair the building. At a meeting of Committee 2 of the Vancouver School Board on March 2, 2010, a facilities staff recommendation to demolish the school was tabled to give the community the opportunity to explore viable options for the building and to research sources of funding.
The community formed a coalition, “Save Carleton’s School” to express their opposition to demolishing the building and to come up with alternative uses and funding for the building. In 2010, Green Thumb Theatre came forward with a request to use Carleton Hall as rehearsal and office space. As part of its proposal it would cover the cost of the renovation and offer theatrical experiences for children in the Collingwood neighbourhood and students at Collingwood School. To date they have not yet negotiated an agreement with the Vancouver School Board and Carleton Hall continues to deteriorate.
In 2010, the Vancouver School Board placed the entire Carleton School on a list of potential schools to be closed in June 2011. The community once again rallied and in December the School Board announced that none of the schools on its proposed list would be closed at the proposed date.
Why are Sir Guy Carleton School & Carleton Hall significant?
Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School is located on a 2.44-hectare property at the intersection of Kingsway and Joyce Street. Sitting at the rear of the site is Carleton Hall, the original schoolhouse that has been central to the Collingwood community since its completion in 1896. Originally called the Vancouver East School, its name changed to Collingwood Heights in 1908 and then to its present name in 1911. The school complex is named after Guy Carleton, Quebec’s governor during the 18th century.
Carleton Hall, Vancouver’s oldest remaining schoolhouse, is one of the five buildings that make up the Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School Complex. This simple wooden structure is a good example of an early two-room schoolhouse. Some of its most important heritage qualities include: a cross-gabled roof with projecting eaves and decorative wood finials, six-over-six double-hung wooden sash windows, wood doors with original fittings, and the simple exterior treatment with wood siding and modest detailing.
This early schoolhouse is highly significant to the entire community because it is:
- the first school to be built in the area, illustrating both the growth and development of the neighbourhood from the time of its early settlement;
- the oldest surviving school in Vancouver;
- a representative example of Vancouver’s early school architecture; and
- an important component of the larger Carleton school complex, which demonstrates the importance of local education.
This building has been a formative element in Collingwood’s development for generations – a significant legacy that cannot be underestimated.
As the Collingwood community grew, new buildings were added to the site, including a 1908 wood-frame building to the east and a 1911-12 neoclassical red brick structure. Four Category A structures, including Carleton Hall, are now recognized in the Vancouver Heritage Register at the Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School site and demonstrate the importance of the entire school complex. The extensive playground and the imposing massing of the school structures distinguish the historic site.
Heritage Vancouver’s Position
Heritage Vancouver urges the Vancouver School Board to finalize an agreement with the Green Thumb Theatre Company as soon as possible to allow the restoration of Carleton Hall to proceed and avoid further deterioration to the fabric of the building.
We urge the Vancouver School Board to remove Carleton School from the list of schools with an uncertain future. The postponement of a decision may allow an eventual increase of the enrolment and alternative uses, but may also distract the Vancouver School Board from its responsibility to maintain the existing structures and initiate the adaptive reuse required by its academic program and the well being of its students.
The distinctive features of these school buildings, the craftsmanship and details entrenched in their architecture require special attention and care. The Vancouver School Board should take a leadership role in planning for its future to ensure the endurance of the cultural and historical values of this unique site.
Update September 13, 2011: Success! Vancouver’s oldest extant schoolhouse, Carleton Hall (1896) now has a bright future – the Green Thumb Theatre and the Vancouver School Board confirmed today, that it has sealed a new partnership that will give the theatre company a permanent home, while preserving one of the city’s top heritage sites. The theatre company plans to renovate the Carlton School House, transforming it into a facility boasting two rehearsal halls, a green room and storage space. The adjacent outbuilding will be converted into administrative offices. The buildings will be leased from the VSB, which had originally planned to demolish the school house.
Renovations for the school house, which was damaged by an arson fire in 2008, will cost around $1 million. The company has launched a $1.2 million capital campaign to cover those costs, which it hopes to raise by late spring of 2012.