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The Victoria Annex: Past, present and future (7 photos)

Owner of site prepping for shovels in the ground while awaiting end of town's development moratorium

A developer is optimistic that a bump in the road won’t derail their Victoria Annex project, which seeks to incorporate a piece of Collingwood’s past into its future.

With Collingwood’s interim control bylaw (ICBL) and the newly proposed Servicing Capacity Allocation Framework putting a wrench in the timeline for completion of the project, Jay Beech, manager of development for Georgian Communities, says the company is working behind the scenes to make sure they’re completely shovel-ready once the ICBL is lifted.

The Victoria Annex, a former school site, sits at 400 Maple Street, and has been vacant since closing in 2001. The Victoria Annex project as being undertaken by Georgian Communities will see 17 residential units built on the site surrounding the existing annex, and the annex itself converted into two semi-detached units while maintaining many of the building’s exterior heritage features.

“It’s a special project for us,” Beech told CollingwoodToday.ca. “It’s been a long road on getting required permissions to proceed to the building permit stage.”

THE PAST

In April 1884, the school board at the time purchased the land now known as 400 Maple Street in Collingwood for $1,100.

On May 27, 1884, the contract to build a ‘‘school with brick additions’’ was awarded to Collingwood architect Marshall B. Aylesworth, who estimated the work at $9,400. In October of that year, construction of ‘‘Central School’’ was reported as nearly complete.

In December 1885, pupils attended the first classes at Central School.

Nine years later in April of 1894, the school board requested an estimate for a four-room addition to Central School. Builder and contractor Francis W. Bryan was commissioned to design the new schoolhouse with four rooms as a separate structure, and construction was started by local contractors John Chamberlain and D. Peterman & Sons.

Construction of the annex is believed to have been completed by February 5, 1895.

In 1897, Central School and the Annex were converted to steam heating.

In 1909, the provincial health inspector filed a report detailing poor ventilation in the school and the inadequacy of brick exterior toilets, so in 1910, the cellar beneath the annex was excavated to full basement height and work was done to join the basements of the Annex and Central School via a tunnel.

One year later, Central School was renamed the Victoria School.

On March 8, 1945, the Victoria School Annex was re-opened after years of declining enrolment. Nine years later in 1954, Admiral Collingwood School was opened for Grade 6, 7 and 8, and the Victoria School was made a junior public school.

In 1969, Victoria School was demolished, and the Victoria Annex became home to the "Association for Retarded Children."

In October 2001, the Victoria Annex – then known as the Collingwood Alternative School – ceased use as a school, and in 2004 the Simcoe County District School Board sold six of the original lots and the Victoria Annex was vacated.

“The annex illustrates the 19th-century philosophy that a school building should be inspiring and have certain features such as separate entrances for boys and girls and natural lighting,” noted Golder Associated Ltd. in their heritage report on the property, completed in 2021. “The plan, massing, gable designs, masonry, decorative and polychromatic (red/buff) brickwork accented with black dye, round and segmental door and window openings together form an attractive composition.”

“The 1894 Victoria School Annex is a neighbourhood and town landmark.”

One of the school’s two original bells currently sits displayed outside the Collingwood Museum. The bell had previously been used at the former Pine Street school before being moved to Central School.

The Victoria Annex and the property it stands on were designated as a protected heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act by the town in 2019.

THE PRESENT

Georgian Communities, an arm of Simcoe County developer Georgian International, purchased the property from Vogel Construction in 2019.

The developer is proposing building four single-detached dwellings, ten semi-detached units, and three townhouse units surrounding the annex. A coach house with integrated covered vehicle parking and three apartments will also be built to the south of the Annex.

The Victoria Annex building itself will be converted into a semi-detached dwelling, housing two units and a detached garage next to the annex.

The entire plan includes an access road off Maple Street that will provide views of the heritage building from the street.

“We think it’s important to the community. We thought it was a special piece that sits in the tree streets in Collingwood. As a large developer in Simcoe County and small-town Canada, we felt this was a nice cornerstone piece for us to ultimately to carve our reputation out in Collingwood a little bit,” said Beech.

SEE MORE: Development proposal draws inspiration from old Victoria School annex

Georgian Communities is the developer behind the Windfall at Blue Mountain and Mountain House at Windfall development projects in the Town of the Blue Mountains, as well as Braestone in Oro-Medonte Township. The company has been active in the local development community since 1985.

To make the project financially feasible, Beech says the plan of subdivision around the annex will help cover the cost of the entire development. He says the surrounding homes have been designed specifically with the other houses in the area in mind so they will fit in to the character of the neighbourhood.

The project received its heritage permits from Collingwood’s heritage committee in October 2021. Currently, the development is in the process of receiving third submission comments. Since 2020, the project has had applications in place for a draft plan of subdivision, site plan approval and a zoning bylaw amendment.

When the interim control bylaw (ICBL) was passed in April 2021, Georgian Communities applied for an exemption for the Victoria Annex project. Their exemption request was denied by the town, so the company pivoted and worked with the town on getting their paperwork in place so the project would be truly shovel-ready once the ICBL is lifted.

“We had intentions to be underway on our home construction process before (the ICBL) dropped,” said Beech. “It has delayed us significantly.”

Beech clarified that planning staff with the Town of Collingwood have still been doing work on their file while the ICBL has been in place.

While Georgian Communities waits on their approvals and the ICBL to be lifted, the company has invested in structural supports in the interior of the annex and has boarded up the windows to preserve the heritage elements from deteriorating further while they wait on their permissions.

“We’re supporting it structurally so it’s intact and can withhold the winter temperatures,” said Beech.

THE FUTURE

Beech says Georgian Communities will be required to replace a waster main on Maple Street, as well as complete some earthworks on the land as part of their third submission.

“We’re stalled in that process due to the ICBL,” he said. “It’s our wish to be shovel-ready and have building permits in place by the end of 2022.”

They are anticipating being subject to the town’s newly proposed merit-based points system – the Servicing Capacity Allocation Framework – in getting their building permit down the road.

Beech estimates that once Georgian Communities has a building permit from the town in-hand, the entire project would be completed within 18 months, including the infrastructure.

“I think the town’s in a tough spot. I think they need to control the development process and this is an opportunity for them to do that. Unfortunately, some developments are going to be left in the dark. We just hope to be considered. We’re ready to go.” said Beech.

For more information about the development planned at 400 Maple Street, including several studies and reports on issues such as tree planting, heritage impact, architecture, stormwater management, servicing and geotechnical investigations, visit the town website here.

WE WANT TO HEAR YOUR STORIES: Did you attend Victoria School? We're compiling stories of the school directly from residents. If you have an interesting story to share from your time at the school, please email your story to jessica@villagemedia.ca along with your name and year of when you attended for publication.


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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