Heritage school gets wrecking ball

Aldergrove Heritage Society director Erik Simonsen says he regrets abandoning his hopes of restoring the Aldergrove Elementary School.

Aldergrove Heritage Society director Erik Simonsen says he regrets abandoning his hopes of restoring the Aldergrove Elementary School.

The two-story schoolhouse was built on the site in 1914 and was used until its closure in 2007. It is a heritage site, however, it has fallen into disrepair and has been rented out to film producers for various movies and TV programs since 2007.

Langley Township purchased the school property for a new Aldergrove recreation centre, and initially planned to restore the building as a new public library, as part of the new complex. However, the cost of removing asbestos as well as work to bring it up to current building codes is prohibitive, estimated at over $2 million.

The Township has decided to dismantle the building and preserve portions of it for use in a display inside the planned new recreation centre complex.

Simonsen had been exploring the possibility of relocating the building and placing it atop a new foundation inside Philip Jackman Park. He told The Star that the estimates he received for this work would be in the range of $1 million.

Simonsen had also explored the possibility of getting senior government grants for this heritage project, which he said would be more meaningful than “just saving a facade.” He had hoped that it could be a public facility such as a museum and archives.

“Unfortunately, all of council’s decisions were made in-camera, so there was no time to garner public support for this plan or to apply for the federal grants,” said Simonsen.

“It could have been Aldergrove’s sesquicentennial project to commemorate the anniversary of Confederation.”

The following is Erik Simonsen’s letter to the editor on the same subject:

Editor:

Mayor and Council decided at their “in camera” meeting on 15 June, to demolish the old Aldergrove Elementary School.

The Aldergrove School is a Heritage Site. To acquire such a designation an outside consultant, with expertise in historical structures, is commissioned to study and make a recommendation on the suitability of the site or structure for such a designation. From there it goes to the Township Heritage Commission for their recommendation based on the Consultant’s Statement of Significance. The report along with the Heritage Commission’s Recommendation is then brought to Mayor and Council who determine if a Heritage Designation will be issued.

Following is an excerpt from the Consultant’s report: “Aldergrove Elementary School is valued for its Edwardian-era Arts and Crafts architecture, as designed by the Provincial Department of Public Works. Constructed in 1913 at the tail end of a great development boom, Aldergrove Elementary School is distinguished by its two-story height and symmetrical construction. The original materials used in the construction of the school, such as its wooden siding and trim elements, reflect the locally available, typical construction materials of the Edwardian era. Schools typically reflected the Arts and Crafts style, which was the favoured style for residential construction, blending these schools into their domestic environment.”

All decisions regarding Aldergrove School demolition were made without community input and without soliciting the people of Aldergrove for their suggestions. All that Mayor and Council is offering the people of Aldergrove, and all the previous teachers and students who remember the school fondly, is to include a “Community and Heritage Recognition Area which will include the Heritage and History of the School Building.”

The residents and businesses of Aldergrove were not even offered an opportunity to come up with alternatives or to raise the money needed to save this major historical Aldergrove landmark.

It is true that when a decision is made strictly to a financial spreadsheet it is cheaper to demolish, or as the Township says; ‘to deconstruct the structure’, than to save and restore the building to code. Over the years I have seen so many businesses, corporations and history of this province and country destroyed because the decisions were made strictly according to a spreadsheet. When the decision maker’s vision only extends to the quarterly and yearly balance sheets, what more can you expect?

Erik Simonsen, Aldergrove