Opinion: Reflecting on Broadview PS and the heritage question

By Dave Allston –

Kitchissippi is at a crossroads, and the future of Broadview Public School, is at stake.

A classic battle is brewing, pitting history and heritage against a desperate need for new and modernized educational facilities. In this case, the proposed rebuild of Broadview Public School – a tremendous success story at a time when inner-city school construction is rarely a board priority and keeping up with suburban growth is an incredible challenge – is at risk of delays and/or design changes due to a potential heritage designation.

This is Broadview P.S., circa 1930. It's our final remaining link to Nepean Township School Section #2, and one of a handful of remaining historical structures in Westboro, writes local historian and former Broadview student, Dave Allston.
This is Broadview P.S., circa 1930. It’s our final remaining link to Nepean Township School Section #2, and one of a handful of remaining historical structures in Westboro, writes local historian and former Broadview student, Dave Allston.

I recognize that heritage designation is rarely an easy decision. Both sides come to the table with completely opposing priorities, and both feel the other is ignorant of what is really important. In this case, parents and community groups just want to have a modern, safe and functional school for children to attend. Much work has been put into getting to this point, and any threat that it may be lost or delayed further would rightfully cause consternation. On the opposite side are the heritage fighters. They may have no other stake in the building other than wanting to protect it for the importance of preserving history and a link to the past.

Until only a few years ago, these individuals barely had a voice. Throughout the mid-20th century, during a period of so-called “urban renewal,” vintage buildings were demolished throughout the city, and our neighbourhood, without a fight. Can you imagine if Keg Manor or the Soeurs de la Visitation Convent had been torn down during that era?

Sadly, Kitchissippi has lost many impressive landmark homes and structures over time, but the discussion at the moment is whether Broadview’s original portion (the “Tower”) is worthy of such protection. Where the tower sits now would become the parking lot of the new school. [article continues below]

Broadview School was originally named Broadway Avenue School, and it remained so until the street changed names in 1941. It was built in 1916 in the midst of an all-out explosion of the burgeoning subdivisions of Highland Park, Westboro and McKellar Townsite.

In 1910, the new Westboro School had been built on Main Street (now Churchill Avenue) to serve all students of the area, but it couldn’t keep up with area growth. A 1915 annex didn’t do much to help. Highland Park had been subdivided only to Golden until 1909, and the McKellar subdivision was created in 1911. Hilson had been added in 1914 and it alleviated some of the burden, but continued demand led to Broadway being built in 1916. It cost $30,000, and also accommodated the first high school classes for the area (then called “continuation classes”) before Nepean High School was built in 1922.

A major fire on the morning of December 31, 1926 destroyed the school completely. Plans for a new school were drawn up immediately, and 35 tenders were received. Significant debate about the budget ensued, many pushing to keep costs close to the $40,000 insurance payout from the first school (which was deemed not possible by the architects). Many pushed for a completely new design but a compromise was eventually reached. The original foundations of the 1916 school were re-used in the construction and the Nepean ratepayers accepted the proposal cost of $75,000 (the overage to be covered by 20-year debentures). Construction began soon after.

Eight further additions throughout the years have resulted in the Broadview of today.

To be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, a structure must satisfy at least one of three criteria: Design or Physical Value, Historical or Associative Value and Contextual Value. The evaluation prepared for the City has identified that the tower portion satisfies all 3, and thus has significant “cultural heritage value.” The City is expediting the review process, and Broadview will be on the agenda of the Built Heritage Subcommittee, Planning Committee and City Council in January. Depending on their findings, the Board may have to re-examine the site plan and design.

Already parents and community groups have questioned the design plan, with concerns about the lack of a (much needed) permanent stage, a second gym, and projected enrollment figures that already appear flawed and outdated. The opportunity (or rather, the requirement) to take a second look may be a good thing.

My personal view is that the original 1927 structure should be saved, and used as an annex to the new school during the day, and by the community on evenings and weekends. This building takes up less than two per cent of the Broadview property. It is also on the northeastern corner, mitigating the effect it might have on the design change. The Board will have options how to accomplish this. A P3 agreement, properly planned, can be successful (take for example, Lansdowne Park) and can benefit the community while saving the Board costs against the rebuild plan. Heritage comes at a cost, the onus of which should not be just on the Board. The municipality can shoulder some costs, and perhaps the neighbourhood could as well.

We have already lost Hilson and Churchill schools. This is our final remaining link to Nepean Township School Section #2, and one of a handful of remaining historical structures in Westboro. I just hope that the possibility of a delay, or alteration to the original plan, won’t blind members of the school community to pause and consider the value of protecting this Westboro landmark. The question of heritage rarely has a simple answer, but it is vital.

It is important to preserve these ties because it maintains an intrinsic understanding of where we came from. It’s a memorial to the past, which, once removed, is forever lost. Buildings like Broadview school are a lasting symbol of the people and the lives they’ve lived. Westboro is not Westboro without these landmarks, and although that is not to say that we need to retain everything that is a certain number of years old, we should be better at protecting our built history for future generations.

Dave Allston is a local historian who specializes in house histories. He’s a former Broadview student, and future Broadview parent. We’d love to hear your feedback on this issue. Send your comments to editor@kitchissippi.com

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