Davisville P.S. no architectural treasure, locals say

A recent essay by Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic lamenting the imminent destruction of Davisville Junior Public School’s current building at 43 Millwood Rd. has left the residents who succeeded last September in their battle to replace it scratching their heads.

In his Feb. 10 column, Bozikovic argued that replacing the school, an origami-like structure designed as a rebuttal against the right-angled conventions of postwar school design, will be “a loss for the city: an unnecessary demolition of a building that has economic and environmental value, and real cultural worth.”

Local residents and political representatives, however, call the existing school building “dysfunctional” and an “architectural failure.” They look forward to its replacement by a new school and community centre, with building to begin in 2018.

Central to Bozikovic’s thesis is the argument, advanced by a team led by architect Carol Kleinfeldt who half-jokingly call themselves the Mod Squad, that the city should have designated the building a heritage property. That might have encouraged the school board to renovate the building, perhaps converting it into a private school, while also constructing new classroom space and a community centre, Bozikovic argued.

He quoted Heritage Preservation Services manager Mary MacDonald as saying the city’s planning department believes the building is “exceptionally valuable.”

Cited as “audibly frustrated” by Bozikovic, Ward 11 trustee Shelley Laskin tells Streeter the process is not as simple as the Globe and Mail article makes it sound.

To secure renovation funds, designated heritage sites must be capable of serving the needs of staff and students, which Davisville’s current building does not, Laskin says. “The majority of classrooms are no longer appropriate for programming needs, there are accessibility issues throughout the school and … it cannot be fixed to meet student needs.”

Bozikovic acknowledged in his essay that renovation is generally more expensive than new construction, but he did not take the building’s poor condition as a given, instead offering Kleinfeldt’s assessment that the building is in “very good shape.”

New school needed

Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow says Bozikovic failed to consider the project’s wider context: That Davisville’s current building is a “dysfunctional” facility designed for small hard-of-hearing classes that haven’t existed since the invention of the cochlear implant. Keeping it intact would be a disservice to both students and the surrounding community, he says.

“The reality was that throughout the whole process, no member of the community, including [Kleinfeldt] and the mod squad, ever raised concerns about heritage preservation,” Matlow says. “ff there was a realistic way to repurpose the building and have a new school somewhere else, that would be a different story. If the mod squad had a plan to accommodate all of the new students that are moving into the area, that would a different story.

“But the reality is we need a school there — one that supports the neighbourhood’s growing population and contributes to its quality of life.”

Like the parents interviewed by Bozikovic, Davisville residents and Midtown Hub co-founders Lisa Kelleher and John Hiddema are more than happy to explain why the current building doesn’t deliver.

Hiddema calls the building’s core design an “architectural failure,” with Bozikovic’s article using nearby Lord Lansdowne School to punctuate its aesthetic arguments.

“A Globe photographer spent 40 minutes prowling the building and grounds for this story, and the end result is an article that requires two photos of a more interesting and attractive school than Davisville to make its points?” he says.

From Yonge Street and Millwood Road, t’s difficult to identify the current school’s main entrance until you are in front of it, Hiddema says. Once inside, two pillars and a cinder block wall obscure where to go next.

“The architect of the current Davisville school failed to meet the most fundamental design requirements and no flourishes or trim or other modernist eye candy will make up for that,” Hiddema says.

Kelleher notes that Davisville’s current building, with a leaky roof and frequently broken windows, has an extensive repair backlog. A 2014 TDSB report estimated the school’s replacement value at $5,736,931 and gave it a Facility Condition Index rating of 169. (Anything above 65 is considered to be in “critical” condition and therefore too expensive to repair.)

By contrast the new building, which will include both a school and community centre, is expected to cost the Ministry of Education $14.9-million.

“This is not a loss for the city,” she says. “This is a gain for the city.”

Kelleher also disputes Bozikovic’s characterization of the Yonge and Davisville neighbourhood as an “affluent and fast-growing area,” noting that while it has more than 65,000 residents and is growing fast, it’s also a “high contrast” neighbourhood with the largest concentration of rental units in the city and a wide range of incomes that is not currently served by a community centre.

“While I appreciate the nostalgia of old buildings, I don’t believe the TDSB should ever be tied to keeping a deteriorating building that cannot provide enough safe, accessible, proper space for 21st century learning,” she says.

Hiddema says financial reality is missing in alternatives proposed by the preservationists, “Who will provide the tens of millions of dollars to rehabilitate the old school? And who will provide operating funding? We haven’t heard a word from them about that.”