Letter: Resident requests cultural heritage study on Beaverton Public School

To Brock Township council and staff:
I’m writing to you to consider preserving the original Beaverton Public School (BPS) building, as part of the School Board’s consolidation process. While the School Board has received funding to build a new school in Beaverton, I believe it still requires site plan approval from Brock Township. I would urge Township staff and council to ask for more and push for better.

I have two young children who will be attending the new school. I fully support consolidation of BPS and Thorah Central, as it would provide better resources and facilities and more opportunities for the students with respect to extra-curricular activities.

However, I would strongly urge you to consider pushing the school board to preserve and renovate the original front portion of the existing BPS school, demolish the rear and build a new addition on the site to preserve the original historic building while providing a new portion to accommodate the consolidation of the two schools. The existing school is and should be recognized as a historically significant building as it is an important part of this community’s history.

I would request that council ask the school board to provide a Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment as part of the site plan process. A building or structure does not need to be 100 years old to designate it under the Ontario Heritage Act. Or the Township could simply push for preservation of the original front portion through its processing of the site plan application for the new school.

While I understand some of the current issues with the existing school, if the schools were left as status quo, those issues would still have to be addressed at some point in time. This is an opportunity to renovate and upgrade the original front portion of the building and add on to it with better facilities.

Demolishing and simply incorporating elements of the existing school into a new school (ie. pictures and maybe some elements in a display case) does not really preserve the essence/importance of this building within the community and an important part of the community’s history would be lost. I personally do not want to see a cookie-cutter school built here based on the school board’s “template,” which could be found in any other community in Durham Region. I would love to see a school that is unique and reflective of our community and its heritage and culture.

Brock Township and the community of Beaverton have done an excellent job at preserving some of its own historic buildings (ie. the town hall and a number of buildings along the main street). The Beaverton library provides a great example of preserving a building and adding a new addition that not only complements the original building, but enhances it. Why would we not hold another public agency, like the School Board, to the same standard or at least consider it as an option?

I was involved in the school board’s Accommodation Review process and in my opinion, their process was somewhat flawed. They presented a recommendation – “Consolidate the two schools in a brand-new building on the BPS site” – and only asked the community whether we agreed – Yes or No. The School Board did not even consider preserving the original portion of the school and adding a new addition as an option until the community recommended it, but by then, it was too late.

If funding is an issue through the Ministry of Education, let’s think outside the box and consider partnerships. If the original school is preserved for historical purposes, try contacting the Ministry of Culture for additional funding for heritage preservation. As a life-long resident of Beaverton, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that if there is something that this community is passionate about, we will find a way to achieve it. Let’s work together with community groups on fundraisers to come up with the additional funding. The cheaper, simpler option is not always the right option.

My other concern with the construction of a brand-new school is the loss of the existing track on the BPS site. I think a track is important to many school events and extra-curricular activities. The track should be maintained or replaced on the existing school site. The school board’s response is that it will work with the Township on a shared use agreement for the park space across the street. I fully support shared uses and that could still be done (if it’s not already in place). However, there is currently no track in that park and the Township would then be obligated to provide amenities for school. This would place additional pressures on our small tax base. The Township should also work with the school board as to what facilities the Township could use as part of this project (ie. gymnasium space, use for day camps, etc.).

I think it would be a shame if we didn’t at least explore preserving the original school before the opportunity is lost. As outlined in the Town’s Official Plan, one of the Township’s objectives is to recognize, conserve and promote cultural heritage resources and to perpetuate their value and benefit to the community.

If after careful review, it is found that the original school building just cannot be maintained because there are too many issues, then I may reluctantly support a new school, as I do feel that consolidation of the 2 schools is in the best interest of the students and the community. I just don’t necessarily think this should be at the expense of this community’s history. I think that preservation of the original building with a new addition would help to maintain the track and a lot of the other existing amenities on the BPS site.

The future of our history is up to you now. While not required as part of a Site Plan process, township council could request that a public meeting be held as part of the review process, prior to a decision being made by Council, to hear what residents really think of the school board’s plans. If the local trustee, Gord Baxter, wants the community to tell him what to save out of the schools, I say – the entire original front portion of the BPS school. I think it would be shame that instead of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the original BPS school building, we could potentially be watching its demolition. I believe there are many residents that would agree that the original school is an important heritage building and should be preserved. I think this community would appreciate a sincere consideration of this option.

Robin Prentice

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