Self Portrait Saturday the vanishing edition

photo day in Vankleek Hill

The Ontario provincial elections were held a few days ago. The wrong party won for exactly the wrong reasons, but it gave me the opportunity to see the inside of the new Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute (High School), where the polling stations were. And, on the plus side, it seems very clean.

On the downside, the school is tiny. It honestly feels like the gymnasium was designed by the same people who put together Spinal Tap’s mini-Stonehenge props.

“I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem *may* have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being *crushed* by a *dwarf*. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.” — Spinal Tap

There’s an attempt to make things seem larger, by using lots of windows, and glass walls, but it just gives the interior an experimental rat feel. The local school board said they built it so small because their regional population estimates say there will be less demand for an English language high school in the next twenty years.

Which, of course, is bullshit. They built it small so they could keep costs down, having a place to keep the Lilliputians comfortable is just a remarkable coincidence.

Maybe they didn’t need to build the new school to the exact dimensions of the old one — seriously, who needs a library anymore — but whoever decided the design of this new school was a good idea, needs to have their genitals tapped with a cricket bat. Firmly, but just once, we’re not barbarians.

Anyway. That’s me in the photo, standing in the new “VCI cafetorium”, which is a completely made up word meaning “we’re too broke to build a stage, plus a cafeteria, so we’ll give you something totally inadequate for either task”. Public relations is such a compact language.

I like this shot because it looks as though I’m disappearing.

Vankleek Hill Photos copyright

4 thoughts on “Self Portrait Saturday the vanishing edition

  1. I led the design team that worked on VCI. A lot of dedicated individuals worked long hours to give this relatively small school with a modest budget as much natural light, open space and considered detailing as was possible. I am sorry to hear that you find it has an “experimental rat feel.” Constructive criticism is always welcome.
    Richard Lister


  2. Like I wrote, Richard, the school board skimped on the money. But I’m sure you and your team did as best you could with the cash provided. At least I’m pretty sure you and your team didn’t intentionally design the school so portables would be necessary on the first day to accommodate the totally expected student population, that was probably the decision the school board made to keep costs down based on population growth figures they pulled out of thin air. I’m also absolutely sure the glass wall decision was all about aesthetics and not about cost.

    Here’s some constructive criticism: it’s too small, it should have been bigger. And, seriously, who came up with “Cafetorium”?

    Good luck with your next project, hope there’s a better budget.


  3. Your disappointment with your local public school board is likely misplaced. The budget of most major public school capital projects is largely determined by the Ministry of Education which also has a considerable say in the building proposed and the program it will contain. On Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 Christopher Hume wrote an article that touches briefly on this when he refers to his conversations with respected architect Barry Sampson. You can still find the article at the torstar website. It also mentions the significance of natural lighting in schools beyond aesthetics. Heschong and Mahoney have also conducted a study in which they found a strong positive correlation between natural lighting of schools and increased student performance.


    • I’m not sure who would argue for having less light in schools… maybe insomniacs, so you, me, Barry, Chris, TorStar, Heschong-Mahoney and Yahweh are all on the same page: more light good, less light bad.

      I believe we can also all agree that students should not be be taught in portable classrooms made from cardboard boxes, which is what’s happening right now, and will continue to happen in the future. In fact, in said future, there will be more cardboard box classrooms… because the school is too small.

      Design is always limited by cost. Interior glass walls cost less, extra (non-cardboard) classrooms would have cost more. If the budget had been larger I’d have expected your team to have given the cafeteria / auditorium their own spaces, two lockers for every student, and maybe a retractable sunroof for each classroom.

      If the budget had been any smaller however, I’d expect the walls separating the classrooms would have been basic office cubicle dividers, a 3-in-1 Cafuditoriumnasium, a tree for a toilet, and exterior classroom windows the size of 17th century arrow slits — which it kind of has.

      …and, living in *the* poorest (off reserve) region in Canada, as well as one of the most neglected by both federal and provincial governments, it’s kind of impossible to misplace our disappointment in the way the local school boards run things. Same with the Ontario Ministry of Education. Case in point: the new VCI is too freaking small.


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