Revelstoke Secondary School is set to end its life like it began – in the midst of a construction zone.
The old school, much dilapidated and past its expiry date opened in the midst of construction and for the past year, it’s been surrounded by a construction zone.
Revelstoke Secondary School (RSS) was built in 1964 when the gap between the old Mountain View Elementary and Joseph Hammond Junior High was filled. The two schools sat across from Queen Elizabeth Park – the former the east wing of the high school and the latter the west wing. The gap in between was filled with the offices, gymnasium, cafeteria, and the band room.
One person to live through the transition, and most of the history of RSS is Brenda (Dixon) (Camozzi) Deibert – the school’s long time reception/attendance clerk, who has greeted students at RSS for almost 34 years.
She first set foot in the building in the late-50s, when only Mountain View existed on the site. It was a single story building with a flat roof and held classes for grades four through six.
I met her at RSS last week and she gave me a tour of the building, pointing out her old grade five and six classrooms, both of which are now used as resource rooms.
Along the way, we passed under a patchwork repair operation consisting of a sheet of plastic and a couple of plastic pipes leading to a hole in the floor for the water to drain from the leaky roof.
“This is a John Dolliver special,” Deibert laughs. “The kids never touch it because it intrigues them. I’m amazed that the kids never pull it down.”
We walked towards the west wing, past the office and into the west wing – a section of which was already demolished last year to make room for construction of the elementary school.
We walked into what used to be Joseph Hammond Junior High and into Deibert’s old grade seven class room. She was able to point out where her desk used to be and in what row. For her first year of high school she was at the old building, where Mountain View Elementary sits today. For grade ten, 1964, the new school was mostly finished.
The first high school in Revelstoke was built in 1904 at Connaught Avenue and Third Street. It was a single-room school house presided over by C.B. Sissons. The following year it was divided into two classrooms but by 1910 it was so crowded that the Mail Herald newspaper wrote an article about the dangers of teaching students in the attic.
As a result, a new high school was built where Mountain View Elementary currently stands. That school sufficed for a while but with the school population more than quadrupling by the 1930s, a new wing was built in 1938. Yet another addition was added in 1951.
The old Mountain View school was built in 1955. In 1959 there was a fire at Revelstoke Central school, then the junior high. That prompted the construction of Joseph Hammond, with the long-term plans of combining the two buildings into one high school.
In 1964 the big move finally happened. Construction began on new classrooms and, most importantly, the gymnasium, offices and more that would join the two schools. A carpenter’s strike that summer meant construction was pushed back by three weeks. Still, school opened on time for grade 10-12 but grades eight and nine had an extra two weeks off while their rooms were finished.
Meanwhile, the new section wasn’t ready until late December, so students had to head outside to make their way between the two buildings.
“During construction students were required to pass from one building to the other through rain, snow and mud,” stated a pamphlet on school history released for the 1967 centennial. “Teachers, as ever, had an advantage since they could shortcut through the growing new building.
“At that time, the peculiar formation of the shake-sided roof gave the school the nickname ‘Fort Fromson,’ after the district superintendent who approved the design.”
That wasn’t the end of the construction; the following school year students had to endure heavy construction as a second story consisting of a library, science labs and art room were added to the west wing.
“A rivalry as to who can make the most noise has resulted between the students and teachers in the classrooms and the workers above,” read the introduction to the 1965-66 yearbook.
Brenda Deibert remembered what it was like trying to get between buildings. One of her best memories as a student at RSS was a protest she and her classmates undertook because two minutes just wasn’t long enough to get between classes if you had to go from the east wing to the west wing.
While she told me her memory wasn’t completely clear, she believes they first wrote a letter to the principal, with the encouragement of some teachers. When that didn’t work, they marched down to the office. The principal was furious at their insolence. He made them stand with their faces against the wall (where the grad photos were later placed) and he dressed them down, especially Deibert, who couldn’t hold in her laughter.
Still, the protest was successful and they secured extra time between classes.
Brenda Deibert stands where her desk used to be in her old grade seven classroom. Back then, that part of the school was known as Josephn Hammond Junior High School. Photo by Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review.
Revelstoke Secondary School was built at a time when Revelstoke was booming. The major dam projects led to a population explosion and school enrolment more than doubled between 1964 and 1970, according to one newspaper article. In the early-70s the school had dominant sports teams that won championships in basketball, volleyball, skiing, curling and bowling.
Much like Revelstoke, the school’s population started to decline starting the mid-80s, when construction of the Revelstoke Dam was finished. The school had one more major renovation in 1988 when $3.6 million was spent on improved shop space, science labs and locker rooms; a new drama studio and renovations to the rest of the school.
Over the past few years, ever since the new schools were announced, the goal has been to hold the old school together. Major projects like a new roof were put off and only maintenance essential to health and safety has been done.
“This school’s been falling apart for a while,” Deibert said, adding they’ve just been patching it up until the new school is ready.
Despite the state of the school, principal Mike Hooker said there is some nostalgia creeping in, especially amongst long-time teachers. He said students have been counting out every last minute as the final day for the old building approaches this Friday.
“For example, Gord Robinson had the last Barbie cannon demonstration and he’s been doing that for 30 years,” said Hooker. “I don’t know if our kids are looking back with too much nostalgia, but the teachers for sure.”
Alan Chell, who has spent the past 27 years as a member of the Revelstoke Board of Education said he was always impressed by the school’s volleyball and band programs, as well as the musicals that were performed in the gym.
“The other memory I have of RSS is it’s amazing how proud students have been of the high school over the years,” he said. “Whenever they have the reunions, they get just incredible turnout.”
Once the new school is occupied, RSS will be torn down to make room for the new elementary school. Deibert, who has worked at the school since 1977 will be making the move to the new school but at the end of the year she plans on retiring.
She spoke of some memories – the year there was a head lice outbreak and students weren’t allowed back to school after Christmas until everyone was checked. She also mentioned the time two students went streaking through a school assembly and the time when two grads who were passengers in a car decided to moon as they were driving by the school. Unfortunately for them the principal was sitting in his office and witnessed the ‘drive by’. There was also the day the noon hour ‘disc jockeys’ decided to play the ‘Rodeo Song’ over the PA for all (including staff) to hear. Oops!
“I’ve spent more time here than any house I’ve ever lived in,” she said.
“I’ll miss it. I’ll miss the kids. That’s what I will miss the most because they keep me young at heart”