Why some Saskatoon schools are known as 'castle schools'
SASKATOON -- As Saskatoon Public Schools moves ahead with its plans to amalgamate three core neighbourhood schools, questions remain about the future of two of the schools in particular, due to their historic nature— with many in the community advocating for their preservation.
King George and Pleasant Hill schools, constructed in 1912 and 1913 respectively, are classified as "castle schools."
According to Saskatoon Heritage Society president Peggy Sarjeant, David Webster was the official public school board architect from 1911 to 1914 and designed all but two of the ten large schools built at the time.
Webster designed the buildings in the "true" British tradition with solid brick and often a classic turret-top. Large hallways and wood floors were the norm.
King George is the larger of the two schools slated for closure sometime after 2023, when the new $29 million amalgamated school is expected to be complete, combining students from the two castle schools and Princess Alexandra Community School.
When the castle schools were built, they were designed to help fill a need for more educational space according to the City of Saskatoon Archives.
"As the city mushroomed in size, the demand for more and better educational facilities grew and the Saskatoon public school board met the challenge: planning the construction of ten major schools."
With the castle schools steeped in tradition, there’s a concern among community members that the heart of the community will be lost if the buildings are not repurposed.
Doug Porteous was a teacher at Pleasant Hill school in the 1970’s and principal of King George School from 1978 to 1985. He remembers a sense of pride among staff and students at the school and recalls working with the caretaker at the time to devise a plan to fix issues with heating and cooling the school, which he says, at the time was the largest in the city.
“The caretaker, Gordon West and I brought in an air wash humidity system which is like a car radiator. With the wide halls and high ceilings, we maintained a cool school during hot days and it was warm with moisture during cold days,” Porteous said.
That system has since been replaced, but Porteous credits its success to the solid structural integrity of the original design.
That original design included 14 rooms including a caretaker’s suite so the building could be looked after 24 hours a day.
The plans called for “quarters for the caretaker, a dining room, and a domestic science room on the upper floor,” according to the city archives.
The final cost of construction of King George School was $156,210.
It was also one of the first schools in the province to be granted "community school" status.
Pleasant Hill School, built in 1913, contained 12 classrooms, a household science room, manual training rooms, and a large auditorium that could be converted into 4 classrooms if the need arose. There were no cloakrooms, and each student was provided with an individual steel locker, according to information from the archives.
According to Saskatoon Public Schools, the school measures 41,929 square feet.
An addition was made to the school because of increasing student enrollment, which was complete in 1929 and the school was considered progressive, according to records, because Pleasant Hill had not only the largest school grounds, but it had offices for medical staff and a dentist.
It was also one of the schools to have a bell tower.
Sarjeant is among those that hope, given their history, the buildings can be preserved and find new life.
In a statement, Saskatoon Public Schools said it is aware the castle schools are significant to their communities.
"Within the limited maintenance funding we have, the school division has worked to preserve the historical architecture and design of King George and Pleasant Hill schools. If there was a movement in the community to more formally recognize the unique historical aspects of these castle schools, Saskatoon Public Schools would consider it," the division said.