John Paul II Collegiate: Preserving the character of the historic school

Students and staff from the North Battleford Collegiate Institute moved to the new comprehensive high school in 1970, making way for Cairns Junior High School. Cairns operated in the old collegiate building for 12 years, closing its doors in 1982 and moving over to Alexander School, which was located one block north.

The old collegiate sat vacant until 1984. Then, in an arrangement brokered by the Department of Education, the North Battleford Catholic School Board purchased it from the North Battleford Public School Board. This was indeed fortunate, because the stately old building would almost certainly have been demolished like other old public schools in the Battlefords — Connaught Elementary School (one of the original “castle schools") and Battleford Central School, for example.

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The North Battleford Catholic School Board is to be highly commended for its decision to retain the historic character of the old collegiate. The south side (including the south entrance), which was the front of the old school, and southeast entrance are essentially the same as they were 50 years ago. And, importantly, the brick and Tyndale stone used in the additions (administrative offices and common area, gymnasium, home economics, server and industrial arts) to John Paul II Collegiate closely match the original. Nor was preserving the character of the old school limited to the exterior. Almost all of the stairwells in the building have been preserved in their original state. Even the student lounge would be recognizable to any pre-1982 student. Finally, the grounds remain essentially the same as they were when I taught at Cairns Junior High School in 1970. One-hundred-year-old white spruce trees still reach to the sky on its south side while somewhat younger trees frame the east side of the collegiate. The student parking lot on the far south side does not detract from the beauty of the grounds.

John Paul II Collegiate began operation in 1985, so it has been in operation for 30 years. The members of the North Battleford Catholic School Division No. 16 board were Henri Lacoursiere (chairman), Jack Abbott, Arnold Gantefoer, Frank Lafreniere, Hubert Bru, Tom Hayes and Dennis Maher. The director of education was Stan Digout. Paul Baskey was the secretary-treasurer. Mark Sieben was principal of the school. The architects were Folstad and Friggstad. The general contractor was Cana Construction Ltd.

Thanks to the foresight, wisdom and sense of history of the board, senior staff and architects, the old collegiate was transformed into a modern, efficient, warm and inviting, and beautiful school while still retaining its historical character. It’s proof you can have it both ways – historical and modern. This model would work well for the remaining heritage buildings left in our downtown core.

Jayne Foster from the News-Optimist and I were given a picture-taking tour by principal Carlo Hansen Nov. 13. We were truly appreciative. We were also impressed with the friendliness and engagement of both students and staff. John Paul II is an exceptional, wonderful school.

We don’t need to raze our historic buildings. But old structures that are not used fall into disrepair and decay. That’s what happened with the old Sallows and Boyd (Pigeon Hotel)  that was over 100 years old. It was allowed to languish and fall apart inside for many decades. The City of North Battleford did not have, and does not have, a policy on preserving and protecting our heritage buildings. Finally, it was beyond ordinary repair, so the City knocked it down and created another parking lot. And, there are many other examples. Which historic building in the downtown core will fall under the wrecking ball next?

John Paul II Collegiate provides a sterling example of what can be done to preserve our architectural history. The other example is the Opera House in Battleford. Look for my next article on this extraordinary heritage building.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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