New school proposal for Deschâtelets progresses

John Dance

Talks to create a new elementary school in the storied Deschâtelets Residence have taken a step forward with news that the Conseil des Écoles Catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) has agreed to buy the heritage building in the heart of Old Ottawa East and Greystone Village from its owners, the Regional Group.

The sale is conditional on a positive due diligence investigation by the French Catholic school board, but if the deal goes through it will pave the way for an elementary school on the lower floors of the old stone five-storey building, with room for a community centre and, possibly, seniors housing in the upper floors of the heritage structure.

The heritage Deschâtelets Residence is poised to be renovated to serve as a new elementary school for the Conseil d’écoles catholiques du Centre-Est.  Photo by John Dance

The heritage Deschâtelets Residence is poised to be renovated to serve as a
new elementary school for the Conseil d’écoles catholiques du Centre-Est. Photo by John Dance

Before a school is created within the Deschâtelets Residence, the City would have to approve re-zoning of the iconic property at the eastern end of the Grande Allée. To that end, Marc Bertrand, CECCE’s superintendent of education, presented the case for a new school at a special community association meeting before Christmas. The school board also made a presentation in January to the City of Ottawa’s Planning Department.

Au Coeur d’Ottawa, CECCE’s central Ottawa elementary school, is currently housed within the old school building at the corner of Main Street and Graham Avenue, a property leased from the Ottawa Catholic School Board. However, the facilities are too small, there is no gymnasium and a permanent location for the school has been sought.

The proposed school in Deschâtelets would have a capacity of 351 “pupilplaces” and would draw from the Centretown, Glebe, Old Ottawa South and OOE catchment area. The building would also have space for daycare of 39 children.

“As a francophone grandmother who has two grandchildren in French education, I am so pleased that the project with the Deschâtelets building will bring access to French-language education close to home,” says Françoise Bouchard, a resident of Corners on Main. “The vision of bringing together a community centre with the care of children and a senior residence is what we are about as a community.”

Although the Deschâtelets Building has no room for a full-sized gymnasium, the City of Ottawa has budgeted for an OOE gymnasium/multi-purpose facility that could be constructed as a separate building just to the north of Deschâtelets. The gym would be part of the community centre and could be shared with the school.

CECCE’s tentative agreement with the Regional Group is for the main Deschâtelets building. The deal includes land on the eastern side that would be used for the outside play area of an associated daycare facility, but it does not include the chapel structure on the eastern side nor does it include any land elsewhere.

The fate of the chapel remains up in the air. Built-in 1950, the chapel features “concrete construction with buttress-like columns and a vaulted ceiling,” according to the City’s heritage report of 2011. Regional says the chapel has serious structural issues and wouldn’t respond well to seismic activity and, based upon these factors, Regional would like to demolish the building.

Issues raised by residents at the community meeting included how the school would use the “Forecourt park,” the planned city-owned park in front of the Deschâtelets Residence; where teachers would park; the impact of school buses and parents in cars dropping off students; and “noise caused by bells, announcements and fire drills.”

In response to these concerns, Bertrand noted that currently there are just two school buses for the Au Coeur School and that a “very low proportion of students” use buses. Possible teacher parking could be by the new gymnasium, noted Taylor Marquis of Regional. In terms of noise concerns, the school board responded that the new school will not use bells to announce the beginning and end of classes.

In terms of the school’s possible use of the Forecourt park, a number of residents wanted to know just how much of the park might be fenced off to provide a safe area for younger students and what were the proposed restrictions to public use of the park during the school day.

“We understand that this will be a mixed space and we do not want to take away your front yard,” Cecilia Shea, a parent of a student at Au Coeur d’Ottawa, responded. “As M. Bertrand mentioned, there will be an enclosed space for the four- and five-year-olds. These spaces are usually small and should not take up all of the lawn.”

“CECCE is an ideal partner for a future community centre in the Deschâtelets Residence, optimizing the use of facilities of both organizations,” concluded Don Stephenson, past chair of the OOE
Community Activities Group and community lead for the new community centre.

“Most important, however, is that CECCE shares our vision for the preservation of a local heritage building and the development of a vibrant community hub, in which to expand community programs and foster community engagement – for the students of the École Au Coeur d’Ottawa and for local residents alike,” said Stephenson.

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