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École Connaught Community School

2124 Elphinstone Street, Regina, SK – REGINA’S OLDEST SCHOOL ON DEMOLITION TRACK DESPITE NEIGHBOURHOOD OUTCRY

Rehab of well-loved historic school is being scuttled by School Board and Provincial funding formula bias for new construction.

Why it matters

Built in 1912, Connaught School is Regina’s oldest school building and highly significant to the city’s educational history. Designed by prominent local architect J.H. Puntin, the two-storey brick school’s design turned away from the ecclesiastical Gothic Revival style for a “secular” classical design, which served as a prototype for other city schools.  It features wide multi-purpose hallways, high ceilings, ample large windows, broad staircases, good ventilation and extra-wide classrooms. Also on site is a round auditorium designed by architect Clifford Wiens in the 1960s. Connaught is the birthplace of Saskatchewan’s community schools movement and was a pioneer in dual English-French education, established in 1975. For many years it was Canada’s only dual-track community school. Today it is a viable and growing school community with 330 students and projected to reach 425 by 2018.

The school is also an important landmark in the historic Cathedral neighbourhood. It bookends the city’s most significant and high profile heritage corridor. It occupies the intersection of the Cathedral Area’s two main thoroughfares (13th Avenue and Elphinstone Street). The school does not have a heritage designation. It has, however, been named in the Neighbourhood Development Plan for the Cathedral Area as a significant heritage property that should be rehabilitated and restored wherever possible.

Why it's endangered

A 2010 engineering report stated that Connaught was near the limits of safe occupancy and that a plan for repair or replacement must be in place within five years. An engineering inspection found the structure highly compromised: there was floor heave, foundation movement, and cracks in the roof slabs, some precipitated by the removal of architectural features like the exterior cornice. The engineering firm provided an estimate of $6.25 million to stabilize the building. Based on this, consultant P3Architecture provided cost estimates: $18.9 million for demolition and replacement, and $23.2 million for restoration and large scale renovation to modify the interior to align with the latest pedagogical practices. The consultant pointed out that the Ministry of Education will likely support the cheaper replacement option. Another complicating threat is a strict provincial funding formula that calculates square metres per student, and Connaught’s generous rooms and hallways work against it. Finally, and most importantly, Regina Public Schools has publicly stated that it is solely in the business of education and is that it does not see a connection between education, heritage conservation and neighbourhood planning. Board officials have also stated that heritage schools are incompatible with modern education techniques because the spaces are too inflexible.

Where it stands

In May 2012, the Regina Public School Board fast-tracked a series of consultative meetings that many participants thought seemed geared toward gaining community support for demolition. At a public meeting on June 19, P3 Architecture presented the results of their public consultation and it showed overwhelming community support for the option to retain and rehabilitate the school. This report has now been sent to Regina Public Schools for deliberation, which will in turn forward a dollar request to the Ministry of Education. There is the expectation that a decision to renovate or demolish will happen quickly and neighbourhood residents are very concerned. In a similar recent case regarding Scott Collegiate, another historic Regina school, the Ministry stated the province would not pay an additional $2 million to make renovation feasible, leading to a plan to demolish the building.