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Burnaby school district wins award for new, 108-year-old headquarters

The school board's $22M restoration of Schou Street School and new addition has earned recognition from Heritage BC.

You might think moving out of a 64-year-old administrative building and into a 108-year-old one would be a step backward for Burnaby school district staff—but not if that old building has undergone an award-winning, $22-million restoration.

District staff moved into their new digs at the old Schou Street School site off Canada Way in November after bidding adieu to their 1958 headquarters at 5325 Kincaid St.

In May, the new administrative complex won an award from Heritage BC for the structural restoration of the old elementary school and for the way it has brought together the past and future with a new, nearly 17,000-square-foot addition.

“We’re just super thrilled. I think it just kind of validates everything that we set out to do,” secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill told the NOW. “We had this amazing structure that we thought we could put back into the state that it was, and to do it in the way that wins the award was pretty validating for sure.”

Long time coming

Efforts to secure a new headquarters for the school district had been afoot for at least a decade before the district announced the Schou Street School plan in 2018.

The scheme saw the district sell its Kincaid property to fund the restoration of the 1914 school and the construction of an addition. (The province funds the construction of new schools but not administrative buildings.)

The result is a unique new school district office with 28,481 square feet of space.

“We went from a building that had one decent-sized meeting room and two small ones to having 11,” secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill said. “And it was designed in a way that would allow us to grow without having to expand the building.”

The focus of the restoration was the outside of the building, starting with a conservation plan prepared by heritage consultants Donald Luxton & Associates, who scoured the archives and the building itself for heritage components to preserve.

That included digging beneath the school’s stucco crust.

Originally, the Arts & Crafts style building had been covered in cedar-shingle cladding, likely stained, dark-blue bevelled siding and buff trim. All those features have been restored.

The windows have also been restored to their original look, but now they hold insulating double panes of glass, to dampen noise and make the building more energy efficient.

The old school’s distinctive front entry porch and stairs have been restored but decommissioned as a main entrance.

The most iconic piece of the restoration, however, is probably the old school’s cupola.

It had been removed years ago but has now been rebuilt and replaced.

“It’s really quite a landmark,” Horswill said.

‘Very high quality construction project’

Inside, the 1914 building has been totally modernized and now houses sleek new offices and a boardroom that could start hosting in-person public meetings again in September.

One nod to the past is the large main staircase that rises up from the original entry way to a large open landing. It had been removed to make room for more classrooms, but it has now been reinstated to all its former glory.

Beside the old building, attached via a new glass atrium with an elevator and feature stairs, is the nearly 17,000-square-foot addition, which represents about 60 per cent of the district’s new headquarters.

Horswill said the goal was to make the new building “supplemental” to the old school in every way, including its colour, roof and orientation.

“It was all intended to support the heritage building and not dominate it,” he said.

The secretary treasurer described the new headquarters as a “very high quality construction project.”

“The consultants, the construction team, the subtrades, everybody was working really hard to do a really good job,” Horswill said.

That has made getting the Heritage BC award that much sweeter.

The district is in the process of getting the award plaque framed, according to Horswill, and he said it will be put up in the old building close to the entrance to the large, new boardroom.

“It’s a really significant award,” Horswill said.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
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