What in a school building?

The Neighbourhood of Learning committee takes a look at what makes RSS important, as it turns 60

RSS turns 60 this year and members of the public are invited to attend the party from 12 to 2:30 p.m. on Friday.

Schools of the vintage of RSS are beginning to disappear across the continent as they are replaced by newer smaller more centralized schools to accommodate dwindling numbers of school children and different technological needs.

In many jurisdictions, new building codes, playground size requirements, seismic concerns, cases of shoddy construction and ideas about energy efficiencies make new construction seem more cost effective than renovation.

Some of the new schools are lovely and come with a wide array of bells and whistles.

There is also no denying that some schools need to be replaced due to safety concerns and appropriate renovations and upgrades are always required to older buildings.

But there is something magical about old school buildings with their wide halls, higher ceilings, windows that open and generous shared spaces, such as cafeterias and auditoriums.

These features are often not replaced when new schools are constructed. Many older schools in B.C. also have beautiful heritage architecture that are sources of civic pride.

Neighbourhood school buildings are considered endangered historic places by the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). In Canada, some old schools are being converted to condos or cultural centres.

It is great that the buildings are being preserved, but sad that they will no longer be utilized as places of education.

Old schools also tend to be centred in neighbourhoods where children can walk. New schools are often built on the outskirts of town and require greater busing expenses. As the NTHP report observes:

“When a district abandons a historic school, the new school often goes up on the outskirts of town. The move from the neighbourhood creates an emotional – as well as actual – distance between the town and its school, between kids and families and their schools. Kids can’t walk to school, which adds to the busing expense line in the district’s budget.”

In the United States renovated downtown schools have become beacons for economic viability and anchors for neighbourhoods.

There is also a sense of history in the halls of older schools. Consider the thousands of youth who have learned, hung out, dreamed and planned their lives in them.

We often like to mention the many now famous students that once graced the halls of RSS, such as George Grey, Dallas Drake and Nancy Greene Raine.

But RSS has produced multitudes of very accomplished youth who have gone on to make important contributions to their communities, careers and families. You probably know some of them. You may be one of them. Those grads are a legacy to our community and our school.

There is a different feeling traversing the halls of an old school versus those of a new school. Students walking down the halls of RSS can know that they are following in the footsteps of generations before them.

In a world where we increasingly embrace  change and new things, there is value in the old, in the feeling of history and legacy.

Schools buildings encode the information of generations gone by.

Generations where schools were built as architectural masterpieces, generations where schools were community gathering places, generations where there were so many children that big schools were needed, generations where we had different ideas about the need for space and natural light, and generations where money was tight, and schools were just slapped up.

The pictures that hang in the halls of RSS tell their own story of changing hairstyles, attitudes, fashions, class sizes, societal norms. They maybe also tell you of people that you used to know. They are worth some time and consideration.

So come out, have a piece of cake, bring your yearbook if you have one, share your stories about RSS and celebrate this school that has been a centre of our community for 60 years.


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