Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In the News: Historic Building Overlooked and Undervalued

By Kelsey Pye, 
The Telegraph Journal, September 9, 2014

The Little Red School House along the Saint John waterfront has been sitting in the same location for years. The building, painted red with white accents, stands unnoticed by many in the city. People walk past it on their way to the boardwalk, or aim a passing glance in its direction while standing in line for Beavertails.

But the Little Red School House is an important part of Saint John’s history.The building was constructed in the 1870s in Pleasant Villa, near Gagetown. It has had many uses over the years, but it was originally used as a small school.

Local historian Harold Wright said the building was given to the city to operate as a museum decades ago.

“It was a gift, or at least a long-term loan, from the New Brunswick Society of Retired Teachers to operate as a schoolhouse museum,” said Wright.

The Little Red School House has been a fixture at Market Square for years. It used to be maintained, painted an eye-catching red and even holding a sign proclaiming its history. Visitors to the city would stop and admire it. But in the last few years, after several occupants and the ever-changing seasons, the building in is rough shape.

The once-bright red paint is now faded and chipped, with the roof tiles looking old and crumbled. Someone spray-painted the side of it with an unintelligible word. And still it goes unnoticed.
The school has housed visitor information centres, a bike rental business, and now it’s where the Beavertails joint next door stores its supplies.

Beavertails employee Tasha Blagdon said the Little Red School House isn’t her favourite place to visit. “It’s creepy in there,” she said. “It’s not falling down, but it’s just so abandoned.” Wright said the building only needs a new sill plate to help support it, but the city seems to be ignoring the situation entirely. “If the city is ignoring it, that’s demolition by neglect,” he said. “The city and property owners are very good at doing that.”

The city considered dealing with the building six years ago. There was discussion of moving it when Barbour’s General Store was moved to the site where it currently stands across the street. Barbour’s General Store, another 19th-century building in the city, has been well maintained and operates as a Victorian museum.

Bernard Cormier, the cultural affairs officer for Saint John, said the Little Red School House wasn’t relocated because it’s not as sound as it looks.

“The reason why it stayed where it was was because it wasn’t able to be moved,” he said. “It’s not in a sturdy enough shape to be moved. They said it would collapse.”

However, Wright believes the building is just fine. “I was just in the building earlier this summer. There’s nothing wrong with the building,” he said.

Wright originally got involved with the Little Red School House when the city tried to demolish it in 2008. He said that after it was decided they couldn’t move it, he fought to keep it safe.

“If the city is hellbent on demolishing it, I’m going to suggest they save themselves a lot of money ... demolition is never appropriate, especially of such an old, historic structure.

“I don’t care what it’s used for.”

Blagdon, who has worked at Beaver-tails since last year, wishes the city would take responsibility and clean up the building.

“I don’t see much difference between that building and (Barbour’s General Store).”

Walk across Water Street to Barbour’s. The exterior of the building pulls people in. High windows, mountains of displays and a large sign shouting the name make it hard not to look. But back across the street, sitting neglected and unused, is the Little Red School House.

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