The most dilapidated schools in Quebec: an institution with a rich past falls into ruin

The most dilapidated schools in Quebec: an institution with a rich past falls into ruin
The most dilapidated schools in Quebec: an institution with a rich past falls into ruin

The Sophie-Barat secondary school, part of the main building of which was closed in 2020 because it was in danger of collapsing, embodies the devastation inflicted on buildings in the public school network by years of neglect.

• Read also: Too dilapidated to be renovated: $1 billion over three years to replace our schools


Secondary school

Sophie Barat

Montreal CSS


The heritage building, located on an enchanting site lined with mature trees on the banks of the Rivière des Prairies, has been in a deplorable state for many years, testify members of the staff.

Long before part of the main building was closed, wire mesh was attached to the exterior walls to prevent debris from falling off.



Photo Daphnée Dion-Viens

A security perimeter has been erected around the school, to prevent people from being injured by pieces coming off the exterior walls of the school.

A few years ago, the rain made its way inside, through the roof of the terrace. Tarps and bins had to be installed to collect the water inside, near the lockers, while everything was repaired.

In classrooms, posters hide holes in the walls.



Photo taken from a CSSDM report

Photos taken from a document from the Montreal school service center show the poor condition of several door frames, rooms, ceilings or stairs inside the building.



Photo taken from a CSSDM report


In the classroom, the sash windows that date from another era shake so loudly when it’s windy that the teachers can’t hear each other talk. Parts of windows even fall out on occasion. This is what happened this spring, in the room of a teacher who was unoccupied at the time.

However, in 2019, a fourth-grade student injured his right hand while trying to open a window, when the upper part gave way. He had to go to the hospital three times, reports his father, Renaud Rouverand, who cannot believe that the same old windows are still in place, three years after this accident.

“I am appalled. Everyone is aware that there is a problem, but we do nothing, ”he drops.


Then, in mid-August 2020, the news fell like a ton of bricks: part of the main building must be closed since it threatens to collapse.

Cracks were spotted in load-bearing walls by an external firm that came to inspect the building.



Photo Daphnée Dion-Viens

A security perimeter has been erected around the school, to prevent people from being injured by pieces coming off the exterior walls of the school.

The library, cafeteria and classrooms are condemned. More than 500 students must be relocated urgently. Some are moved to the annex, but others are relocated to a former primary school, located more than four kilometers away. Parents, furious, loudly denounce the situation. Even though they have seen the state of their school wither over the years, the teachers are taking the brunt.

“It ruins me too, in a way. It’s my second home here,” says teacher Martin Gaudreault. What saddens him the most is how much the state of the building has dealt a blow to the thousand and one projects he used to carry out with his students.


Two years after this hastily decreed closure, discontent is rising in the ranks of some teachers, who are growing impatient. Quebec last year confirmed funding that has now reached $184 million to expand and renovate the school. But since then, very little information has leaked out.

“We are not kept informed regularly, we are a bit in the dark. It creates a lot of uncertainty,” laments Guillaume Cassou, a mathematics teacher who, like many others, has his school tattooed on his heart.



Photo taken from a CSSDM report

Louis Mercier, until very recently president of the student council who also sits on the governing board, also deplores the slowness of the process and the “high level of bureaucracy” surrounding this major project. It is amazing that it was necessary to arrive at this state of emergency before the situation was taken seriously.

Guillaume Cassou is of the same opinion. “What a shame,” he blurts out.

At the Montreal school service center, on the contrary, it is said that the project is going well.

The start of the first phase of work on the outer envelope of the doomed wing is scheduled for this fall.

“It unblocks, this file,” says Stéphane Chaput, Deputy Director General for Financial Performance Management and Operational Efficiency at CSSDM.

However, you will have to be patient, he warns. “People have a lot of hope, but it’s a construction site that will take a long time, it’s a heritage building”.

Several steps still remain to be taken. The scenario under study provides that in 2025-2026, some of the students will be relocated to a transitional elementary school in the Ahuntsic district, which has not yet been built, while the work on a larger scale is carried out.

The end of the work, which is led by the Société québécoise des infrastructures, is currently scheduled for December 2027, but this is a “very very optimistic” scenario, warns Mr. Chaput.

Students inspired by their dilapidated school

The poor state of the Sophie-Barat school inspired pupils, who last year carried out an ambitious theatrical project in which they express themselves on the sad fate reserved for their secondary school.

In one of the paintings in this show titled Living in the ruinsthese Secondary 4 students don’t mince words when describing the state of their school.

The toilets smell bad, the classrooms are poorly ventilated, the windows are dirty and the hallways are overcrowded, they say. “But it’s a public school, so it’s normal”, launch the young people in chorus.

This major event, led by French teacher Michel Stringer, also presented the rich past of this school, which was first a boarding school for young girls founded by nuns in the mid-19th century.

Then, in the 1970s, the interior was bulldozed to facilitate its transformation into a public secondary school. Hardwood floors have been replaced with vinyl tiles.

While major renovation work is on the drawing board, the students also took the opportunity to reflect on the future of their school to which they remain deeply attached, despite its advanced state of decay.


This project of the teacher Michel Stringer is however far from having been unanimous internally. Members of the school board reproached him for his very black observations.

But, among the hundreds of spectators who attended, parents were touched by this position and by the wake up call that she caused.

For Steve Laplante, the father of a student who wanted his daughter to change schools, this project allowed him to “reconcile” with the sad fate reserved for this establishment.

“I especially realized that what remains of the most beautiful on this site [ce sont] students who try to remain proud when they compare themselves to their private school friends [et] proud teachers who […] give a backbone to an establishment that needs it more than necessary”, can we read in a letter that he sent to the school management.


A year after the presentation of this show, Michel Stringer is now working on another project, which this time will focus on the duty of loyalty, a theme underlying the heritage history of the Sophie-Barat school, he said.

“That the legacy of the decision-makers of the last 30 years is this appalling maintenance deficit, it is a lack of loyalty to all these cohorts of students who have passed over the years”, affirms this teacher in search of solutions, not culprits.

“We should all feel responsible for this place,” he says.

The article is in French

Tags: dilapidated schools Quebec institution rich falls ruin

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