Due to demographic shifts, seemingly poor management, budget constraints, and multiple other circumstances, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is facing school closures throughout the city. Witton Lofts, formerly McIlwraight Public School, is a intelligent example of how you can adaptively re-use a former school without a wrecking ball.
Completed in 2013, the five-storey, 36-unit loft is a catalyst for redevelopment in the core. The design of the building effectively incorporates and preserves the two-storey school from 1925, while a three-storey emerald jewel box of glass and steel is superimposed on top of the neo-Romanesque building. The outcome is a harmonious marriage of contemporary and classical architecture. New entrances have been relocated to the east side of the building, where an elevator has been added for accessibility to the upper floors. Two additional entrances are also located at the rear of the building under original arched doorways. The schools façade has largely remained unchanged with its detailed limestone ornament and intricate, colourful brickwork. The only changes being cosmetic and structural upgrades, such as pot lights and new windows.
With a mixture of both fully enclosed and open-air balconies, the lofts offer panoramic vistas of both the bay and James Street North. Parking garages for residents have also been added for additional parking and storage.
Architect William Palmer Witton designed McIlwraight Public School while he was partnered with Walter Wilson Stewart. During his formative years, Witton apprenticed under Alder & Sullivan (two of America’s most influential architects) in Chicago between 1893 and 1894, where he was trained in the Beaux Arts tradition. His other notable Hamilton landmarks include Herkimer Apartments, George R. Allan Public School, and a chancel addition to Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, to name a few.
In 2013, Witton Lofts received the City of Hamilton Urban Design Award of Excellence for Adaptive Reuse.