Building conservationist to address school board tonight

A possible decision to close Connaught School may be based on incomplete and contradictory information, according to a specialist in building conservation.

June Botkin of Botkin Historic Building Conservators has been reviewing a series of engineering assessments of the school, and sharing them with specialists across North America and internationally. She will present some preliminary observations to the school board tonight.

“Based on what is presented in the reports, I agree with the board’s engineering consultant that the school can operate safely for another year with a minimum amount of work. This is what parent representatives are asking for, and I see no reason why their request can’t be met,” said Botkin.

Botkin trained at UNESCO’s International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property headquartered in Rome and has been involved in several high-profile Saskatchewan projects, including Legislative Building renovations and the rehabilitation of the Weyburn Court House.

“With proper attention and maintenance, turn-of-the-century buildings are more durable than modern construction. Many of the immediate concerns raised about Connaught appear to be related to later interventions that are negatively impacting the original structure, and these things can be remediated,” Botkin said.

“Beyond 2015, re-pointing the brickwork and applying new reinforcement techniques to bring the floor slabs up to code are less expensive and disruptive alternatives to demolishing and rebuilding an entire school, and will meet all levels of government requirements for energy management and sustainability,” Botkin said. “This would certainly be more in keeping with the approach preferred by the community.”

At a meeting at Connaught School last Tuesday, parents repeatedly challenged the board’s failure to care for Connaught and other schools in the division, leaving the school community with few palatable choices for September. Some other schools cited as potential locations are known to have their own structural and air quality problems.

Director of Education Julie McRae responded that the division is concerned with student safety first, citing what she called an emergency evacuation of a Connaught classroom in December.

A letter sent to parents on Dec. 17 about repair plans for a cloakroom in Classroom 12 stressed “the wall that requires repair is not a load-bearing wall,” and that it was expected construction would be complete by the time students returned to school in January.

“This is the kind of contradictory and incomplete information coming out of the division office that could benefit from a second look,” said Botkin. “Are we basing decisions on the best information available? There is time to seek solutions and options, so why is that process not happening? There simply isn’t enough consistent information in these few pages of reports to support informed decision-making.”

Members of the Ecole Connaught Community School Council will also address the board. SCC members Amy Petrovitch and Theresa Hohne will ask trustees to carry out recommended repairs, estimated at $20,000, over the summer so that the school can open in September.

Meanwhile, Cathedral Area parent Kate Smart launched a campaign on Thursday to raise $10,000 toward repairs by April 14. By this morning, the campaign was already more than one-quarter of the way to its goal.

Also on the agenda, Heritage Regina’s Robert Hubick will call on the board to do a better job of responding to community input in school planning. “In a feasibility study conducted by P3 Architecture, they stated the community was overwhelmingly in favour of renovating the existing school as opposed to building new. If the community wanted a new school, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” his presentation notes.

Rather than working with the community to renovate their school, the board opted to allow further deterioration to the point where the community may have no school at all, noted SOC chair Rene Dumont. “They chose to let the boat sink without preparing a life raft. Right now we are focussed on ensuring the students have somewhere to learn in September, and that there remains a school in the community. At a community gathering on Sunday everyone was united around doing immediate repairs to keep the school open as long as possible,” he said.

Building Issues – Some Summary Points

  • Damage to the lower exterior appears to be caused by pressure-washing the Indiana Limestone. The wand marks from pressure washing are clearly visible.
  • The steel framework of a relatively recent mechanical room is non-flexible, causing deflection of the floor slab and wall cracking directly above it. The affected wall, a non-structural cloakroom wall, was replaced during the Christmas break, however unless the framework below is removed or made adjustable, cracking and heaving can be expected to continue.
  • The significance of a visible crack in a beam above the mechanical room is unclear, because the beam pocket has not been exposed. How far the beam goes into the wall, and details of the beam’s interior structural steel are unknown. These are important factors for assessment that have not been investigated.
  • Core samples of the brickwork were found to be “generally satisfactory” according to the Kenyon report, however the mortar has softened. This is not surprising. Mortar is meant to be replaced as needed over time, and can be done via injection.
  •  Engineering assessments dating back at least to 2010 point to water seeping into the brickwork due to poor site drainage. Recommendations relating to drainage have gone unmet over the years, perhaps because, as noted in an August 2013 letter from JC Kenyon, “It is our understanding that the school will be closed in the near future.” (This understanding was not shared with the public.)
  •  The exterior staircase at the school’s public Elphinstone Street entrance have been treated in the past with an inappropriate mortar, and have reportedly suffered from a dripping water tap in the alcove under the stairs. The stairs can be restored to their original condition and protected from future damage with appropriate site drainage.

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Verda Petry

     /  March 4, 2014

    To consider. What if . . . funds are raised and some repairs are made, and what if . . . some part of the school collapses anyway, and what if . . . one or more children are hurt or killed? Would one more year of life in this building have been worth it? If I had a child in this building I think I would worry . . . and possibly send him/her to another school. The real problem was that the PSB didn’t properly maintain the building over time, but given that, I wonder if a patchwork of repairs can make the building safe. The PSB would be liable if an accident occurred and this will be a deterrent for approval of the community plan to repair.

    Reply
    • The same engineering firm that said the building has a limited life span says it will be safe with these repairs, which are relatively minor (front steps and a corner). The steps are a tripping hazard, not structural. The board and its engineer have not said the building is in danger of imminent collapse, but that it will continue to deteriorate with time. The one major safety issue, a beam, was dealt with by installing a steel column, which the engineer said addressed any potential problems for now, although other beams may develop similar issues as time passes. All communications from the board so far say the building is currently safe.

      Reply

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