Devonshire reno: 21st century features and a big nod to heritage

By Andrea Tomkins – 

After a full year at a temporary site, students and staff at Devonshire Public School had an exciting start to their school year as they returned to a school that had just undergone a $4.5 million transformation.

Most notably, the building is now fully accessible. Originally built in 1910, the old Devonshire was three storeys high with no elevator or ramps. The new Devonshire finally got an elevator, but now also has a special entrance with a ramp.

“This is huge,” says Devonshire Principal Julie Derbyshire. “Not only did they add it on to our building, but they made it a beautiful space. We will use it as a learning space as well. The natural wood, the brick, the tile, the light – it’s just a wonderful space.”

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Devonshire’s principal, Julie Derbyshire, is looking forward to showing off the “new” school. Kitchissippi residents will have a chance to see the changes for themselves at an open house on October 15. There will be tours between 2 and 3 p.m. and will be open to parents, former staff and students, and even curious neighbours who lived through the renovation. An official re-opening ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. Afterwards, the celebration will move outdoors where there’ll be food trucks and family activities. Photos by Andrea Tomkins

The gym also got a major facelift with new floors, basketball nets, lighting, white boards, sound system, ceiling fans, a retractable screen.

Massively high ceilings throughout the building had to be brought down to accommodate energy-efficient lighting, but to a visitor, they’re still as high as ever.

Many original features of the school were preserved including doors, windows, slate blackboards. Hardwood floors throughout the entire school were restored to their original state. The building was also painted top to bottom in colours that reflect its heritage.

Although the fresh coat of paint was welcome, the school’s updates went far beyond the cosmetic. A sprinkler system now extends throughout the entire school. Other key upgrades include secure swipe card entry and video surveillance on the front door. It is a school that’s moved into the 21st century, but also knows from whence it came.

“It feels like a place where learning is meant to happen,” says Julie. “It’s cheery, it’s bright, it’s open. It feels organic.”

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The Devonshire gym (this photo was taken on picture day!) was also renovated.
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A view of a new accessible entrance at Devonshire. It will also be used as a learning space.
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“Our community room is very unique, it’s an alternate space for learning, with a stage, and tables and chairs which can be moved around,” says Julie. At one point the stage (pictured above) was going to be ripped out, but a student wrote a story about how important it was for learning. Today, the community room is a new place for learning, staff meetings and even yoga classes.
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Hardwood floors throughout the entire school were stripped down, restained, and restored to their original state.
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High ceilings throughout the building had to be lowered to accommodate new energy-efficient lighting and a sprinkler system. “I felt the architects were so respectful of the building’s heritage,” says Julie. “Look at the ceilings they put in. They’re not just plain ceilings. They’re beautiful.”
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Surprise! There was a fireplace hidden behind a false wall in one of the kindergarten classrooms. It’s thought that the room may have been a staff room at some point.
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The Devonshire renovation was a long time coming and the kids eagerly anticipated their return to their school. “It’s really hard to leave a building for a year, a building which, for many, is a home away from home,” says Julie. During the year away, Julie would bring pictures of the progress back to the students. “It generated a lot of excitement, but at the same time they were so keen to get back.” Pictured above is the front of the school, complete with new bike racks and landscaping. Parents are now more likely to stay and chat.

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