Retiree turns high school memories into work of art

Don Percival with a scaled-down model of SCITS. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

When someone sees one of Don Percival’s meticulously handcrafted models he always gets the same question: how long did it take?

“I’ve never kept track of the time it took because it’s a hobby,” said Percival. “It’s something I like to do; I really enjoy it.”

The retired steamfitter’s most recent project is a replica of Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School, better known as SCITS.

Crafted from pine and mahogany, it depicts the revered high school as it appeared upon opening in 1922, right down to the original number of classrooms.

He painstakingly carved the exterior brickwork and each spindle and railing of its tiny staircases — viewable thanks to a three-part removable roof.

Textured plastic sheets sit inside the walls to create the windows, and, true to life, a performance theatre with a stage and balcony occupy the middle of the foot-and-a-half tall model.

Eventually, he plans to fill the theatre with tiny seats.

“I wanted it to go back to when I went to school,” said Percival, who attended SCITS in the 1950s.

“They were great years.”

Halls, corridors and the great auditorium are revealed when the roof is removed from Don Percival’s model of SCITS.
Troy Shantz

He began the project last April and it took about six months to complete. He drew up his own plans based on 841 images and blueprints provided by the Lambton Kent District School Board.

“It’s a lot of measuring, a lot of drawing. That’s something people don’t know or realize,” he said. “There’s so many things involved with it before you come up with the final result.”

Percival plans to publicly display the replica and discuss its construction for the first time at St. Paul’s United Church on Sunday, Jan. 20 at 10 a.m. The church is hosting a free will lunch following the service.

For now, it’s housed in Percival’s basement. But he’d like to see it displayed somewhere, perhaps even at the rebuilt Great Lakes Secondary on Murphy Road once it’s ready for students, he said, although nothing has been finalized.

The SCITS building isn’t Percival’s first foray into woodcarving.

He has made dollhouses, toys, and art pieces, and created intricate models of the Falkenstein and Neuschwanstein castles in Germany.

But those are dwarfed by a towering likeness of the Disney Castle, which features a tiny prince and Cinderella’s forgotten glass slipper on the front steps.

“I can put my ideas into (them) and figure out ways to make it easy or accomplish what I want,” he said.