Semiahmoo Secondary vice-principal J.B. Mahli (left) and firefighter Scott Booth (centre) work with Bayview Towing to slide the cupola off a flat-deck truck at the rear of the school.

Moving experience a Semiahmoo history lesson

High school’s cupola languished in storage at Surrey School District maintenance yard since being saved in 2004.

Students at Semiahmoo Secondary are set to receive a local history lesson, after the school took delivery Monday of the cupola that sat atop the original Semiahmoo High School in White Rock.

“I can’t believe it’s actually here,” said Surrey school trustee Laurae McNally, as the aging structure was carefully unloaded from a flat-deck tow truck and into the school’s shop area.

“It’s been a long time – 11 years. It’s been in (the school district’s) maintenance yard all this time. I’m down there once or twice a year, and every time somebody says, ‘Oh, by the way, what are you doing with that thing?’”

The cupola – a small dome on the school’s roof – was part of the  original schoolhouse, which was built in 1940 on the current site of White Rock Elementary. In 1990, the high school relocated to its current location, on 148 Street in South Surrey – replacing White Rock Junior High – and the original site became an elementary school.

In 2004, the original White Rock Elementary was demolished and rebuilt – seismic upgrades were required and the building was deemed unsafe – and McNally fought then to have a piece of the school saved.

“I’d walk over there every day, because I only live a few blocks away, and I went to bat for the cupola,” she said.

“I just think this whole area is changing so rapidly, and we need to preserve things like this.”

While McNally has fought to save the artifact for much of the last decade, it was a team effort to get it to the South Surrey secondary school Monday.

After sitting for more than a decade, much work is required to restore the cupola, which is why it was delivered to Semiahmoo Monday afternoon. Students in the wood- and metal-working programs – along with teacher Tyler Cox, a Semiahmoo grad himself – will restore and repair it.

Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg – also a Semiahmoo graduate – was instrumental in spearheading the project, as was White Rock firefighter Scott Booth, who graduated with Cox from Semi in 1994.

Bayview Towing also chipped in, picking up and delivering the cupola free of charge, Hogg noted.

“It’s a community effort,” he told Peace Arch News prior to Monday’s delivery.

Aside from a few nervous moments as the cupola was carefully unloaded – “I can’t watch,” McNally said on a few occasions – Monday’s delivery went smoothly. In the days ahead, the parties involved will decide what work will be done to it, and eventually, where it will be placed in the community.

“I’m excited to find out what the plan is,” said Cox. “All our students, from Grades 9 through 12, will get a chance to work on it… it’s great to have such a meaningful project to work on.

“It’s not taking materials and just building something. It’s about taking something that already exists, and respecting the age and the history of it and restoring it.”

Hogg said there are plenty of options for final placement of the restored piece, including the original site at White Rock Elementary, Five Corners, somewhere along the White Rock waterfront or at Semiahmoo Secondary.

“It’ll look pretty spectacular when it’s redone, and if we can find a prominent place for it, it’ll be a nice addition to the community,” he said.

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