Monday, February 27, 2012

Promoting a dream

According to my morning paper, London has an opportunity to save a shining jewel. I'd say the paper has a chance to chase a dream and involve their readers in the pursuit.

The shining jewel in question is the former London Normal School on Elmwood Avenue which was opened 112 years ago. The jewel has lost some of its sheen over the intervening years. It hasn't been a school for decades and in 2005 it ceased being the admin building for the London District Catholic School Board.

Now it sits. An old building in search of a new use.

I wondered what developers in other communities have considered doing with old buildings such as this one. A short google search turned up Barat College redevelopment in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Stealing some info from the architect's web site, I learned this once proud religious women's college had fallen into decline. At the heart of the 24-acre campus is the historic Old Main structure with red brick and stone walls and a slate roof crowned with an ornate cupola. The building has been a fixture in Lake Forest for over 100 years.
Old Main on the former Barat College campus in Lake Forest, Ill.

Plans are to rehabilitate and develop the building into a 50-unit condominium. Old Main will be the generator of a proposed campus redevelopment, whose proposed plan is based on traditional Beaux Arts principals of axial and interlocking public spaces and parks. The new Georgian Revival-inspired neighborhood will consist of 35 new town homes and 35 new single-family attached dwellings.

Sharing dreams is an art requiring art.
The architects' attention to detail is evident in the overall plan, from the Georgian style buildings and site accoutrements --- bridges, fountains, and street lighting --- to the detailed landscape planning.

A personal dream needs some concrete plans if one is to share the vision. The architects in Lake Forest know how to communicate their dream for the site. Detailed plans have been released with dream-inducing artist conceptions.

What could be done with the grounds surrounding the former Normal School?

The Barat College plans in Lake Forest, Ill., are just that: plans. This is a dream yet to be realized. On the other hand, Union High School in Black River Falls, WI, is a dream realized. This historic school has been successfully converted to apartments.

The school, built in 1871, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

It would be interesting to get a peek at the apartments in the old school. Some, especially those with interesting windows, might be quite remarkable.

The London Normal School could be converted to a spectacular residence.


  1. Barat College redevelopment is DEAD at the moment. Developer lost the property to the bank and plans are that the historic Old Main building may be demolished. A bad economy doesn't help people envision a new future it seems.

    1. Sad to hear the Barat College redevelopment fell through and that the main building may be demolished. A bad economic climate is also making life difficult in London, Ontario.

      Thanks for the update.