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Moncton High School

207 Church Street, Moncton, N.B.—USE IT OR LOSE IT

Moncton High School is one of hundreds of historic schools from the first half of the 20th century that are under siege in communities across Canada.The future of this landmark building—an outstanding example of Normandy Gothic Revival style architecture in New Brunswick—is at risk due to the province’s lack of commitment to maintain and invest in existing schools.

Why it matters
Moncton High School (MHS) was built to last. The cornerstone was laid for this imposing 3-storey sandstone structure in 1934, and its arched bays and massive wood entrance doors have seen thousands of students come and go over the years. The school’s character is further revealed in the wood panelling, carvings, vaulted plaster ceilings and other historic details that abound throughout the building.

Known as “the castle” it is considered to be one of the most important architectural landmarks in downtown Moncton and a symbol of permanence in the city.

Why it’s endangered
In September 2007 the District Education Council (DEC) requested a complete Master Plan for “major upgrades, renovations and /or replacement of Moncton High.” The resulting document, released in January 2009, acknowledges the building’s uniqueness and recognizes that much of the original exterior and interior elements and craftsmanship should remain intact. In particular, the auditorium, with its seating area, balcony, stage and decorative finishes in place, is singled out for its heritage value and identified as a space that should not be modified. However, the report goes on to recommend extensive and costly renovations to the building, amounting to $48 million. Conversely, construction of a new facility has been estimated at $25 million.

New schools are expected to have a life cycle of 30 years. MHS has already served the community for 75 years, and is made of materials with many more years of service life. The $25 million cost estimate for a new school does not include many elements that exist at MHS, such as the auditorium. Economics aside, the environmental impact of abandoning this building and replacing it with a new structure would be staggering.

While the decision about the future of MHS rests with the Province, Moncton City Council has come out firmly on the side of “protect and preserve.” In February it unanimously passed a resolution urging the provincial government to “take all reasonable steps” to restore MHS and to let the community have its say on the future of the building.

Where things stand
Moncton’s Heritage Preservation Review Board is raising awareness about the significance of the building and the need for public consultation. The Board hired Jim Bezanson, a professional planner and architectural consultant, to review the structural investigation component of the Master Plan. His findings, which question the extent of costly structural changes recommended, were presented to the DEC and School District 2 in June 2009. As a result, the staff recommendations in favour of new construction presented to the DEC that evening have been removed from the table. The DEC chair has asked staff to “go back to the drawing board.”

The Save Moncton High School Facebook Group is rallying students, teachers, alumni and concerned citizens to work towards finding solutions which would help save this historic landmark.

UPDATE: In September 2010, the school was closed for six days to repair corroding steel beams. Soon after, following complaints from a group of teachers, students and staff were moved to Edith Cavell School so that officials could assess health and safety concerns.

In February 2011, Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Jody Carr announced that the former Moncton High School would be replaced with a new facility. Also announced was $2 million in repairs to the old school where students would return in the fall while the new school was built.

Since 2012, the government has issued two requests for proposals for a mixed-use project for Moncton High School, however, neither bore fruit. In May 2014, the former high school was listed for sale on the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure's website for $1 million. While announcing the sale, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claude Williams indicated that the property would be maintained by the province until sold and that any sale would come with conditions for protecting the heritage character of the municipally-designated building.

In January 2015, staff and students moved into the new school. As of September 2015, no buyer has been found for the former Moncton High School.