This week, the City of London distributed letters stating that construction on the Lorne Ave. Public School Site at 723 Lorne Ave. in Old East Village would commence this summer. The school - which was demolished in 2017 following community members’ tireless endeavours to keep it open - will become the site of a new and innovative park in its first phase, eventually featuring a housing development, in its second phase. Construction of said first phase at the corner of Lorne Ave. and English Street is set to begin on June 15, 2020, bringing welcomed, additional park space to OEV.
Lorne Ave. Public School had, for decades, been an important part of the community. The original building dated back to 1875 and the school as many of us knew it was reconstructed and existed on this same site for more than 140 years. In 2016, Lorne Ave. saw its final school year but it was acquired by the City of London in order to explore opportunities for new uses and contributions to the community.
Julie Michaud, the Project’s Manager through the City of London told us “this is a very unique project. It’s rare you create a new park in an established neighbourhood, normally, an existing park is enhanced.”
She went on to explain that the Community Consultation Process was a very important aspect of this project because they wanted to ensure needs were met and something unique that matched the character and deep heritage present in OEV was created.
“This is very different from your typical London park” she assured us.
In particular, there were three main pillars of focus in the development of designs: Environmentalism, Arts, and Heritage as well as an acute attention to accessibility in a barrier-free space. These were derived from what residents and consultation participants communicated as most important to preserve the past in a modern way for future generations to enjoy. These pillars are echoed in the new and distinct features in this park. Some of these include an insect hotel where visitors can observe and learn about the ecosystem around them, an integrated sensory garden woven throughout that encourages exploration and imagination, and the playground itself will be constructed from wood, rather than your typical plastic structure.
As well, two features hearken back to Lorne Ave.’s long standing history in London, ON. Preserved and erected on the site will be the school’s original steel bell (dating to the 1870s) as well as the lettering from the later incarnation’s facade.
Julie confirmed that the intention of these features is for children and visitors to experience the space and the notion of play differently. “People in this community have a deep attachment to the school… we wanted to integrate its history and provide a new gathering place for them to enjoy” she said.
Great lengths have been taken to design a park that both meets the needs of this community while encouraging others to visit and enjoy its innovative components. In fact, a group of dedicated, volunteer community members, worked for several years in the Lorne Ave Steering Group, to ensure this is exactly what happened.
Sarah Merritt, a longstanding OEV advocate, resident, and Steering Group member told us above all, it was so important to create a safe and welcoming space for people in the community and beyond to gather and enjoy this neighbourhood.
“While this park cannot replace Lorne Ave. Public School, it will be a place where children and adults can come together and that future generations can enjoy” Sarah said.
“Magical things happen when people come together to do great things for the community” she told us. Especially in this project’s case, and in general, that simply cannot be more true.
Stay up to date on construction progress and additional information regarding the Lorne Ave. Park Project through Get Involved London right here.