Carleton Hall is facing demolition following a fire caused by arson in 2008. The Ministry of Education has denied two proposals by the Vancouver School Board to restore the building for future use and lacks funding to proceed on its own.
Why is Carleton Hall significant?
Carleton Hall, Vancouver’s oldest remaining school building, is one of the five buildings that make up the Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School Complex in the Collingwood neighbourhood on Vancouver’s East Side. The 1896 Carleton Hall is one of four buildings on the site that are “A” listed on the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Register.
This wood structure is a good example of a small early wooden school house. 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, interior wood paneling, wood doors with original fittings, built-in blackboards, interior washrooms in each classroom, and the simple exterior treatment with wood siding and modest detailing.
This early school house 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.
What is the threat to Carleton Hall?
Carleton Hall is facing demolition following a fire caused by arson in 2008.
The Ministry of Education has denied two proposals by the Vancouver School Board to restore the building for future use and lacks funding to proceed on its own. Faced with the Ministry of Education’s refusal to pay for the restoration as either as a kindergarten or an early childhood centre, facilities staff at the Vancouver School Board recommended that the building be demolished.
At a March 2, 2010 committee meeting, the Board tabled the recommendation to give the community the opportunity to explore viable options for the building and research sources of funding. If the community effort is unsuccessful, the Vancouver School Board will proceed with demolition in the summer of 2010.
In 1896, the school was built as a one-room school, known as East Vancouver School, later expanded to the current two-room school building and today is known as Carleton Hall. To meet the expanding needs of the community, new buildings were added to the site, including a 1908 wood-frame building to the east and a 1911-12 neoclassical red brick structure.
Carleton Hall served for a long period of time as the school’s kindergarten. Its separate, segregated yard protected young children from the rough-and-tumble play of the older children.
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, the historic schoolhouse 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. If the community is not successful, the building is scheduled to be demolished in the summer of 2010.
The community has 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.
Heritage Vancouver’s Position
Collingwood, which places a high value on its heritage resources, is a neighbourhood with a relatively small number of high-quality heritage sites.
Carleton School formed the nucleus of the emerging community and continues in that capacity today. As the oldest school building in the city, Carleton Hall’s importance as a historical asset stretches well beyond the boundaries of the Collingwood community. The future use of the building may not be a kindergarten; however it is important to find a use that allows children to continue to benefit from the unique structure of the building and its location on the school property.
This is not a crisis situation, and there is no need to demolish the building by a certain date.
Heritage Vancouver urges the Vancouver School Board to take immediate action to stabilize Carleton Hall to avoid further moisture damage to the heritage elements of the building. Carleton Hall should then be mothballed until such a time as a use and sufficient funding for the restoration can be found.
The nucleus of the funding should be the $75,000 that it would cost to demolish the building. Further funding should be sought from a variety of sources including the Vancouver School Board, the City of Vancouver, the Ministry of Education, private donors and community organizations.
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.