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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

New ideas for old St. Patrick’s High School

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HALIFAX – “Destroy St. Pat’s.” This was the verdict of the Coast’s newest fix the city article, a list otherwise chalk full of forward-thinking city-building suggestions.

What to do with the decrepit old high school — currently the Quinpool Education Centre — at Quinpool and Windsor now that its students sit a few blocks east in new Citadel High classrooms is definitely a good question to be asking; a question that deserves better answers than just demolition, especially since there are so many ways the neighbourhood could benefit by reusing this fifties-era landmark.

Physically the largest high school in Canada when it opened in 1954, St. Pat’s once accommodated 2,300 students. Due to the building’s massive size, these last few years aren’t the first time many of its rooms have gone unused. When it first opened, students took up only one fifth of the area, a number comparable to the 400 students using the school before its closure three years ago.

Besides empty classrooms, its crumbling exterior also houses an auditorium (a 1960s addition), library and gymnasium — features a creative architect would have no problem breathing new life into.

Rather than just tearing it down, why not reuse the building for a whole mix of purposes? With so many students living in the area, ideas like turning the old school library over to the Halifax Public Library and adding wireless internet should be explored. Or perhaps returning Quinpool Road to its former glory as a movie theatre mecca by revamping the auditorium as an independent cinema?

The empty classrooms could also serve a variety of purposes. Mirroring the amazing renovation of 401 Richmond in Toronto, the building could house studios, work spaces and offices for artists, entrepreneurs and start-up companies. Like at 401 Richmond, a daycare could make use of the protected courtyard following a bit of greening while its massive flat roof could become a fantastic roof-top patio and garden.

Opening up the Quinpool-facing side of the building with doors and patios wouldn’t be a bad idea either. With so much lawn space to work with, cafes and restaurants would likely kill for so central a location with that much room between the building and the sidewalk.

These are just a few alternatives to demolition that should be considered before the building is written off by renewal projects.

photo by Simon Pulsifer



  1. All great ideas, but the fact that the city can’t ever straighten out the Bloomfield Centre situation gives me little hope. Not to be a cynic on this, but well, HRM Council certainly breeds cynicism in HRM citizens when it comes to governance and civic progress..

  2. There is a simple solution, put it up for sale, if someone wants to fix it up,they will. If no one comes along than it wasn’t meant to be and the market has spoken. There is no need to pretend that a building has some magical inherent worth.

  3. It’s one thing to have a big empty school at one of the major crossroads in the city (well, two big empty schools, actually) – it’s another to have the decorative column panels ripped off of the entrance like you can see in the picture. It looks like something from a war zone.

    Does anybody know why the panels were removed in the first place, and more importantly why something (anything!) can’t be done to clean it up?

    On the other hand, I guess it matches well with the boarded-up brutalism of the Queen Elizabeth school across the way.

  4. As a former St.. Pat’s student, I would love if this building could go on.

    The problem is it has some major mould issues. Issues that prevent the current inhabitants of the building, an alternative high-school, an adult education centre and ESL school (I believe), from using certain wings and hallways for fear of their students getting sick. It’s a huge shame, because it’s a relic and a place that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

    As for the panels being removed, the facade started falling off sometime while I was still attending high school there (2001? 2002?). They presented a hazard, obviously, because the major slabs were erected around the entrance- no one wants a big slab of stone to the head, right? And thus the building’s current jail feel.

    If they ever set a date for demolition, I vote we honour the ol boy with a huge dodgeball game in the quad!

  5. I have no emotional ties to the school, but I view this thing as a major eyesore every time I walk by. Demolish it and develop it.

  6. The old St. Pat’s/Quinpool Education Centre is not exactly empty. Numerous programs still take place there: among other things, the city schools music programs, as well as community choir and band, use the library and surrounding rooms, as well as the auditorium, on a regular basis. Other schools use the auditorium for their annual musical productions. Adult ESL and other language classes are also housed in the building. It’s still a busy place, just a friggin eyesore. The auditorium actually has a projection room — can you imagine a rep cinema there?The Coast needs to dig a little deeper in a lot of its stories and not presume it already knows everything.

  7. I’m with you Margo. There’s tonnes of potential for that building to continue to be reused and reintegrated into the community.

    As for all this talk about it being an eyesore, these 1950s schools were built to last, so while there might be some chipped paint and crumbing concrete now, these minor aesthetic issues are easy to fix/restore. They shouldn’t distract from the actual structure, which is pretty much intact.

    All it needs is a good scrub down. Just look at how beautiful the school looked when it opened:

  8. The land which the school sits on has to be used for educational purposes or it reverts back to the ownership of the Catholic Church. The mold was caused by a crack in the facade that let water into the walls according to the custodial staff. It really shouldn’t have been that expensive to fix. The expensive part would have been ripping out all of the mold and refurbishing the interior. Seeing how these areas have been sealed off there is no reason why the city couldn’t seal the crack and deal with the mold in sections as they have the money. The leak may have had something to do with why some of the facade started falling off and was taken down but the rest is still going strong. It would be nice if some of the spaces could be refurbished I am specifically thinking of the locker rooms, the seats in the auditorium and a coat of paint would be nice.