EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Chapleau Public School Demolition "Missed Opportunity" Ian Macdonald Writes

CPS 2014 Vince Crichton Photo
With the announcement by the Algoma District School Board that it had called for tenders to demolish the historic Chapleau Public School (CPS), there was bound to be discussion inside and outside the community. CPS was merged into Chapleau High School after structural problems were revealed.

Ian Macdonald, who attended both Chapleau Public and Chapleau High schools in the 1950s, and recently retired as head of the department of architecture at the University of Manitoba, and was awarded the prestigious position of “professor emeritus” contacted me about doing an article calling the proposed demolition a “missed opportunity”.

Ian has written extensively on Chapleau’s buildings over the years, and has also been awarded the Preservation Award of Excellence from Heritage Winnipeg for his work in preservation of historic buildings. Ian has also written about the CPR in Chapleau.

As always Ian provides an insightful look which may be helpful to the citizens of Chapleau primarily who do not even have a local representative on the school board now…. MJM

Ian on left at Professor Emeritus Ceremony
Chapleau Public School Demolition: A Missed Opportunity

By Ian Macdonald

History often provides interesting lessons for us including those associated with the first Reeve (mayor) of Chapleau, G.B. Nicholson.

The first CPR depot in Chapleau which was opened in 1886 was eventually replaced by a new depot completed in 1909. The usual process in those days would be to demolish the old depot once the new one had been completed and was fully operational. G.B.Nicholson, however, was not your usual kind of individual. He proceeded to purchase the 1886 depot from the CPR and relocated the building to Monk Street.
1909 station

The two storey component of the old depot was refurbished as a two storey house and the single storey baggage room component. became a single storey duplex. These three residential units are still fully functional and useful buildings one hundred and twenty eight years after being originally built and one hundred and four years after being relocated to Monk Street. Fortunately, Mr.Nicholson rejected the easy option of demolition and exercised his creative and innovative instincts to do something that was both socially useful as well as being resourceful and practical.
First station

I understand that the Chapleau Public School is scheduled for demolition and I can’t help but speculate on what old G.B. would have done if he were alive today and confronted with the situation faced by the
Algoma and District School Board. I thoroughly reviewed the engineering report on the Chapleau Elementary School Ceiling Finish Collapse and could easily understand how one might quickly conclude that the prudent thing to do would be to demolish the building and quickly make all the bad stuff go away. It is important, however, to cut through the engineering jargon and focus on the core issues.

The original 1925 Public School building is essentially a wood frame building with timber stud walls and floor joists similar to most residential platform frame construction of the day. The width of the classrooms, however, had to be a clear twenty four feet requiring specially milled 2” x 12” floor joists twenty four feet in length for floor and roof assemblies. The usual maximum length of these kinds of joists to-day is sixteen feet.

Monk Street residences
The main problem with timber joists spanning twenty four feet is that they deflect up and down and eventually cause anything attached to them to gradually fatigue and fail. Those of you who attended Chapleau Public School in the early 1950’s may recall that the plaster ceiling in the semi-circular assembly hall failed and demolished a couple of sturdy wood work benches in the process. Fortunately the students were all in their respective classrooms at the time thus averting a major disaster had all the students been in the assembly hall at the time the ceiling came down.

The deflection problem which was systemic throughout the building should have been rectified at that time through the introduction of secondary structure to reduce deflection and strengthen the floors. If this had been done, there would not have been any of the subsequent problems of future ceilings coming down or over-stressed floors as identified in the Elliot report.

Now let’s get back to what G.B.Nicholson might have done with to-day’s situation. I spent a couple of hours sketching up some plans exploring the potential of converting the original Public School building to an eight unit residential block to see what was possible . All eight units in these sketches were highly amenable, consistent with current building code requirements and each had an excellent view of the river.
G. B. Nicholson

Construction of these units included the supplementary structure necessary to eliminate any deflection or floor strength problems. What do we gain after all this you might ask? The town recovers construction costs through the sale of these units plus the ongoing tax revenue generated by an eight unit residential facility. I’m sure this is the option that G.B. would have looked at and should have been the option that everyone should have considered before opting for the path of least resistance and issuing the RFP for demolition.

 I have a pretty good idea of what G.B. Nicholson would have done and I’m sure you do as well. Unfortunately G.B. isn’t with us to-day to provide the visionary kind of leadership necessary to deal with the myriad of problems facing our communities to-day. He has, however, provided examples for us to learn from that have endured and stood the test of time. The question is whether we have the creative energy and common sense to learn from them and apply those lessons today.

Thanks Ian. As an aside Mr. Nicholson was reeve of Chapleau from 1901 when the community was incorporated as a municipality until he retired from office in 1913. Interestingly, his wife Charlotte Weller was the first school teacher. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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