Davisville Junior Public School

Davisville Junior Public School

Faded walls, empty cupboards and Sharpie notes scrawled on classroom doors give one the sense that the end of this past school year cleared more than the students out of the hallways of Davisville Junior Public School, Spectrum Alternative School, and the Metropolitan Toronto School for the Deaf, located at 43 Millwood Rd (and visible from just east of Yonge and Davisville).

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Hailed as an architectural wonder, Davisville Junior Public School opened its doors in 1962. The fact that as of 2018 the building will be no more has been a contested one. Architects, historians and locals all lobbied for the building to receive heritage status, and when that didn't pan out, they continued to argue for renovations over demolition. The Globe reported last year that in the end, the 'treasure' of a building would indeed be coming down in 2018.

The school opened its doors this past weekend one last time so that former students and locals could both remember and learn about the school. Principal Shona Farrelly conducted two tours through the school on Saturday morning, sharing stories and pointing out design features of the building that were once considered to be innovative.

Coat cubbies that would hold 6-8 coats and bags, originally enough for one classroom's worth of students at the School for the Deaf were now paired with coat hooks which lined the whole hallway to accommodate 30 students in the same space today at Davisville Jr Public School.  Students would need to shuffle sideways between rows of desks to get around the classroom. According to the school council website, half of the classrooms in the building are smaller than provincial standard.

Some parts of the school's original design or patchwork updates to the building across the years don't make much sense - an accessibility ramp in a library on the third floor without elevator access, a door added in a renovation which only leads outside to a patch of gravel rooftop, and tiny 'playful' windows in classrooms that provided a certain aesthetic from the outside, but minimal air flow from the inside.

In other corners of the school, decades of wear and tear are evident - a custodian knew to wheel in a garbage bin into the main gym every time it rained because of a constantly leaky roof (the innovative design, it turns out, is very difficult to maintain).

Within the past 25 years, enrolment surged from around 150 to over 700 students, due to improved programs (including French immersion), bussing in from other neighbourhoods to access unique programs found at Spectrum Alternative School and Metropolitan Toronto School for the Deaf, and of course, rapid expansion of the neighbourhood. Even with the catchment areas shrinking, the pressure on the school would prove to be too much.

One of the architectural highlights is the floating staircase - and while it may have aged well aesthetically, it is far from meeting any of today's rigorous safety codes.  The way it was constructed means that it can't be retrofitted to be brought up to code - without bringing down the whole building.

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Which, despite of the rich history, is what is going to happen starting in a few weeks.  August 20th, 2018 is slated to be the first day of the demolition.

Relocating to 529 Vaughn Rd for two years, the school narrowly avoided being forced to stay on site during construction which would have necessitated bells ringing every 10 minutes to rotate over 700 students through 5 different lunch breaks, and an altered fire drill plan which involved hoping that cars would stop for the students when they inevitably had to spill onto the streets surrounding the school.

Students and staff will return to a brand new facility in the fall of 2020, and pick up where they left off, providing a progressive and comprehensive learning environment in the heart of the Davisville neighbourhood. A donation of 12 bricks from the current school's 1906 predecessor will combine with 12 bricks from the current school to surround a time capsule which will be placed on display in the new school. It's clear that while the school's walls are coming down once again, the spirit of the school will live on.

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