Sydney landmark demolished

Former Woodill school turned community centre torn down after flood damage


Published on January 18, 2017

The brightly coloured walls of the Southend Community Centre, formerly Woodill Junior High School, are revealed as two large pieces of heavy equipment tear down the building that extensively damaged by the Thanksgiving Day floods. In the foreground, two workers keep a watchful eye on the operators as they rip apart the structure that was erected in 1952.

©DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST

SYDNEY, N.S. — For Ronnie Mader, the demolition of the former Woodill School was much like losing an old friend.

I saw generations of students and teachers go through those doors, so it’s a shame. Ronnie Mader

“I can’t remember when the school wasn’t there — I spent 60 of my 68 years living right across the street, I went to the school, and I was there on the day of the storm,” said Mader, pointing to a Hillview Street house that was one of many neighbourhood residences hit with “no occupancy” orders following the Thanksgiving Day, Oct. 9, 2015, flood that devastated the low-lying area in Sydney’s south end.

“It’s a sad day, it’s going to be different when it’s gone, it’s going to be really different without that school there — I saw generations of students and teachers go through those doors, so it’s a shame.”

Joe Sampson didn’t attend Woodill School, but he did live across the street.

“It’s unfortunate that the disaster happened, but it has to be dealt with,” he said, as he prowled around the perimeter of the demolition scene with camera in hand.

“About a week or so ago, a part of the roof blew off and it was quite dangerous and scary — a 20-ft. by 20-ft. piece of wood blew right across the street and landed in my front yard.”

Work crews arrived on site early Wednesday morning, but after smashing a hole through the front of the building to retrieve a time capsule, they were forced to wait while both the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s Water Services and Bell Aliant crews were called to the building that for the past 20 years served as the Southend Community Centre.

Once the demolition began in earnest, it didn’t take long before the 65-year-old building was reduced to a large pile of rubble and twisted metal. The activity attracted more than few onlookers, including Andree Hearn, who stopped her car to snap a few quick photographs.

“I didn’t even go to the school and I’m sad — my husband went here a long time ago, though, so he’ll want to come down to see,” she said.


The former educational institution was built in 1952 and was, for the most part, populated by junior high school students, who had graduated from a number of city elementary schools, including Ashby, Colby and Argyle, before it was closed in 1996.

A year later, the South End Community Development Association saved the former school from the wrecking ball when it began leasing the building and offering various activities, including its popular dance and martial arts programs.

The community centre continued to be a hub of activity right up until the Oct. 9 storm that featured more than 200 mm of rain in a just few short hours. The building was located at what might be called ground zero as the creek that overflowed is directly behind the former school’s rear grounds.

Angie MacDonald-Fraser, who had worked at the centre for the past 16 years, said it was tough to see the building come down.

“It’s not easy — this was a place that served a lot of members of the community,” said the administrator and program director, who did manage to save the centre’s martial arts program after finding space for the activity on Spruce Street.

“But we’re not giving up, we hope we can continue somewhere — our board is working endlessly to put together a strategic business plan.”

Meanwhile, the repercussions of the Thanksgiving Day floods continue to weigh heavily on those affected by the disaster. A number of area homeowners who lost their houses have banded together to form the South End Lost Homes Coalition in an effort to get improved compensation packages from the province.

Association spokesperson Tom McNeil, whose house on St. Peters Road has also been deemed uninhabitable, said the majority of homeowners who lost their dwellings will end up taking on debt they didn’t have before the floods. He said the group is merely asking for a fair package so the debts of the homeowners won’t be as bad it now appears they will be.

“As it stands, the disaster assistance program is narrowly focused and arguably short-sighted — the actual flood may have passed, but the compensation package, as it exists, allows the problems it caused to continue.”

Along with the former Woodill School, a couple of nearby houses have already been taken down.

 

david.jala@cbpost.com