A new start for the old Greenvale School has earned Dexel Developments a Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia Built Heritage Award.
The Lofts at Greenvale opened last year in one of the most cherished historical buildings in downtown Dartmouth. The 36-unit apartment building, located at 130 Ochterloney St., has been praised for its adaptive re-use of the old school.
Kris Skiba, project construction manager with Dexel Developments, said it was an inspiring project to work on.
“It was a great experience to be interacting positively with the Heritage Trust, and both of us getting excited about the same things,” said Skiba. “As a development company, often times the Heritage Trust’s goals and our goals don’t always line up. So to have this, where we were both excited and working toward the same thing, was really exciting and a bit of an inspiration, to me anyway, for things to come.”
The unique structure, with its brick siding and Doric columns, was designed by renowned local architect Andrew Cobb and built in 1915, constructed to replace a previous school that was destroyed by fire in 1914.
It was a school until 1980, but the auditorium was used as a community hub throughout its history. It withstood the Halifax Explosion in 1917 and served as a medical aid station and a sanctuary for the homeless after the disaster. The building closed in 1987, standing vacant until 2006 when it was bought by Dexel Developments.
But while breathing new life into the old building, Dexel managed to preserve some important features -which didn’t go unnoticed by local historians and residents.
The Dartmouth Historical Association nominated Greenvale for the Heritage Trust award.
“The building is an important landmark in Dartmouth,” said Harry Chapman of the Dartmouth Historical Association. “It played a very prominent role in the life of the community from 1915 up until the 1970s. Although we call it the Greenvale School, it was so much more ... A good many of the people that live in Dartmouth today attended it as an elementary school or as a high school, and have very fond memories of going there.”
Chapman said he believes residents were very pleased with Dexel’s finished product.
“A lot of times, developers would just look at that and say ‘that’s just a hulk of a building, we’ll just tear it all down, clear away the bricks and build another 10-storey tower,’ and that’s it. But this was preserving a building from the past and I think they were deserving of such an honour,” said Chapman.
Skiba said they actually ended up re-instating a lot of the original features in the building.
They found Andrew Cobb’s original plans from 1914 and were able to identify major architectural features on the building that had been lost over the years.
“He (Cobb) was a really diligent architect,” said Skiba. “If you look at the building, it’s really just a box, it’s not a complicated form, but what makes it unique is the attention to detail.”
Dexel recreated a lot of those lost features, and in terms of the detailing, the building is actually more true to the original form than it was before they started work in 2009, said Skiba.
Changes included a 5,000 sq. ft, addition, which is all brand new construction, but mimics the original building. They resurfaced the brick with a stucco-type product to provide a rain screen over the brick, insulating the building from the outside and matching the addition to the original structure.
“If you’re to go to the site now, it’s virtually impossible to tell which one is new and which is old,” said Skiba.
Inside, they stripped it down and exposed the structure and design.
“We have 16-foot high ceilings in many areas and exposed bricks and mechanical and structural elements, polished concrete floors, in-floor heat, and a very open concept in the living space.”
Skiba said they had an overwhelming response from the public at an open house they held in October.
“We teamed up with the Dartmouth High School reunion, some of the last classes to graduate from Greenvale when it was Dartmouth High, and at one point we had 150 to 200 people lining up to see the building, it was unbelievable,” said Skiba. “People were just thrilled to see that the building was preserved.”
A statement on the Heritage Trust website site said: “The creative redevelopment of this Dartmouth landmark enables the building to stand for another century, and indeed, the project enhanced this huge Dartmouth landmark through innovative design and expansion. Congratulations to Dexel Developments on this large and important project.”
Presentation of the annual Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia's Built Heritage Awards took place Monday, Feb. 21 at The Halifax Club. An award was also presented to the Morning Tide residential project in Chester.
Greenvale was originally constructed in 1891, but the building was destroyed by fire in 1914
The new school (present structure) was built and reopened in April 1915
It was designed by internationally renowned local architect Andrew Cobb and built by Rhodes and Curry of Amherst. The school is a unique building in Dartmouth as it was constructed of brick, rather than the traditional wood frame and cladding.
It withstood the Halifax Explosion of 1917 and was used as an infirmary and sanctuary for the homeless after the disaster. It was one of few schools that remained operational after the explosion.
Dozens of trees were planted more than 100 years ago on the site, which were uncommon species at the time of construction. They are now protected as heritage trees.
Greenvale School housed the first kindergarten class in Canada and was Dartmouth's first high school in 1934.