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Sarnia signals intent to protect SCITS with heritage designation

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Jake Romphf

Sarnia has taken a first step in having the former SCITS high school designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, a move that could eventually spare it from the wrecking ball.

Council agreed last week to identify 275 Wellington St. as a candidate for designation, and instructed staff to oversee a comprehensive assessment of its historic and artistic elements.

Individuals and groups including the Sarnia Heritage Committee and Sarnia Historical Society are worried the 96-year-old building will fall into disrepair once its students move to a rebuilt Great Lakes Secondary on Murphy Road.

That was to happen in September, but construction delays have forced the board to put the student transfer on hold for now.

A designation under the Heritage Act can protect properties from “unsympathetic” alterations and prevent demolition without due process and council approval.

The assessment by an outside agency has been referred to the 2019 city budget at an estimated cost of $7,500. It would identify the building’s key features.

“It could be the façade, it could be the windows, it could be the staircases,” said city planning director Alan Shaw.

Once designated, any changes to the heritage elements would first need to be approved by council, he said.

The school’s owner, The Lambton Kent District School Board, has told the city it’s concerned a heritage designation will impact the building’s future and the board’s ability to sell it.

It might limit alterations and “impact the desirability of the building to potential buyers,” said education director Jim Costello, who has asked for an opportunity to speak to council.

“This is the first step in about four or five for this building to be designated,” Shaw said. “Ultimately, city council makes the decision.”

Built in 1922, the high school is the oldest in Lambton County and one of only a handful in Ontario with a swimming pool and multi-level auditorium.

Its high degree of craftsmanship includes classical egg-and-dart mouldings, engaged columns, urns, gently sloping stairways and sandstone windowsills.

“SCITS is an example of really great architecture. It’s one of the most significant buildings in our downtown core.” said Wayne Wager, a heritage committee member.

“People from all over Sarnia went to that school, so it helped make those connections for future generations.”

A heritage designation would protect important elements and still allows owners to make necessary updates, he said.

“That magnificent structure, that gorgeous building, is a landmark.”


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