After almost two years of renovating, Nelson Mandela Park Public School reopened its doors March 19th. As another addition of the revitalization of Regent Park, the changes made to the beautiful beaux-arts structure are congruent with several of the other projects currently under-way — the authenticity of the building remains intact, only modernized. Nelson Mandela Park Public School stands proudly as an example of the TDSB’s Model School for Inner Cities Policy, making it an identifying and integral part of the new Regent Park community.
The LEED-silver retrofit of Nelson Mandela Park Public School was completed by CS&P Architects. Their innovative designs were intended to foster a dynamic learning environment, a huge contrast to what once resembled a “factory model” academy. The idea behind open-space in the classroom and in the halls is to encourage “casual encounters”, creating a nurturing and inviting environment for children to learn, socialize, and grow-up.
In addition to the 660 students currently attending Nelson Mandela Park Public School, the City of Toronto has also taken this opportunity to use the building as a social hub; one that includes a child care centre, community centre, and an employment centre, all of which are linked to the Toronto Community and Housing Corporation. The idea behind amalgamating community and school had been a part of a larger plan to build a supportive centre for all aspects of community, not just learning.
The school itself has seen many improvements in terms of facilities. Besides switching-out the old doors and windows for transparent blockades for light and visibility, the school now revolves around a central tier amphitheatre. As well, the new library has forgone doors all together, encouraging easy traffic, welcoming all students to enter. Both the amphitheatre and the library are prime examples of dynamic learning facilities.
Originally, Nelson Mandela Park Public School was set to open September 4th, 2012. Of course, this did not happen due to many obstacles along the way:
- Contaminated soil under the basement of the school
- Corroded cast-metal structural columns
- Delayed and expensive clearances under environmental regulation
- Limited access to construction site
- Delayed land transfer document processing
- North roadside incomplete
- Roof not up to code
- Sump pump regularly on the fritz
- All windows needed repairs or replacement
Considering the length of this list, it is no surprise the project well exceeded its budget. All-in-all, the TDSB believes the renovations to have costed close to $4-million. Of course, many of these conditions were out of the builders’ control, but in restoring a heritage building, set-backs like this should have been expected.
Since 25% of TDSB’s current re-developments have over-run their budget, there has been a freeze placed on their spending until a strategy can be made to reverse this trend. Despite costing lots of money, many people in the community are in support of restoring heritage buildings to adapt to modern times. With this said, many are not in favour of this. This is only one instance of many that has sparked debate as to whether or not these renovations have been worth the cost and the hassle.
In the eyes of the students, they could not have been more excited to transfer back to Nelson Mandela Park Public School in March. Originally, the transition was to be postponed, but as explained in the TDSB newsletter, graduates wanted to spend the last few months in the new school. Parents and Regent Park community members felt similarly. The only concern is how much more will be spent restoring similar structures in the area.
A special thank you to the TDSB and the CS&P Architects for supplying the photos.