One of the most impressive buildings in the City of Sarnia is about to close. It has stood for 96 years on Wellington Street, fronted by wide green lawns, which add to the majestic aspect of the building.
Sarnia Collegiate Institute & Technical School was the pride of our community when it was built in 1922, in the days before architectural embellishments were considered too expensive and unnecessary, and it has stood alone among our current building-block schools and public buildings.
Initially, the most imposing feature was a front entry that consisted of welcoming wide steps and concrete banisters complete with tall light standards. In the 1960’s, that entry was changed to the glass enclosure we now have to allow for two new offices deemed necessary at that time. Later additions to the rear of the building included classrooms and two gymnasiums.
Built to house 1,000 students, SCITS had many interior features including terrazzo floors in the wide halls and stairs, which made fire escapes unnecessary; telephones in every room; a large auditorium with theatre-type seating, a balcony and stage; two gymnasiums; and a 75-foot swimming pool, with change rooms and showers.
Prior to the Second World War, staggered classes were implemented in order to accommodate a burgeoning student body. Following the war, expanding enrolment made supplementary use of the four classrooms at the vacant Wellington Street School necessary.
Prior to the Ontario Department of Education taking over our city-owned schools, a local Board of Education would determine the funding needed for the coming year, advise the city of its requirements, and an education tax was added to the property tax bills. At the same time, provincial grants were based on student attendance.
In those days, students had to purchase their own supplies, including pencils, paper, notebooks, textbooks, etc. On the first day of school, long line-ups formed at local stationery stores.
There have been many changes to our educational system over the last half-century. Now, the Ministry of Education calls all the shots, not local school boards.
Many of those changes were made for very good reasons, while others have left citizens wondering why they were ever made. Local input, whether from the school board or the public, is often outweighed by Ministry policy.
Our pride and joy on Wellington Street is closing, and it’s a sad day for Sarnia.
Pat McLean is an alumnus of SCITS and a lifetime resident of Sarnia