The story has already been told of how education in Greenock was unified by the building of Greenock Academy. Even although the northern wing was not completed till after 1855, the erection may be considered to be a bargain at the original building costs. The ground floor opened out by means of arches on to the space which came to be called the school garden. It was soon discovered, however, that driving rain and the east wind made conditions uncomfortable and draughty, and these openings were filled in with wooden panels and glass. The leaded glass windows with their diamond panes later gave place to the utilitarian, if less ornamental, plain glass. A relic, however, of the original type of window is still to be seen at the girls’ stairway.
The school grounds at first were not completely fenced or walled in, and it was a frequent excuse for late-coming to say that one had not heard the school bell. This excuse vanished in 1887. Mr. Hugh Steel’s offer to build the walls of Gourock stone at Finnart Street and Kelly Street lane was accepted at the lump sum of £500, the lowest offer, and operations began on the 29th June. Finnart Street at that time had not been properly formed, and when boys entered the school precincts by the gate on that side, they incurred the displeasure of Mr. Horatio Peile, factor for the Laird.
The guardians of education in the early days apparently did not believe in the system of remote control, for a Directors’ Room was housed in the school building. In the School Board minutes of 7th July, 1887, it is recorded that the Directors’ Room was to be fitted up as a classroom for the German Master, the German classroom being allocated to the French Master. Throughout the school’s life repeated shortage of accommodation has been partially overcome by recourse to division of various rooms. It was not till 1888 that the first addition was made to the school as originally planned. A one-storey building, as a gymnasium with dressing-room for boys and girls, was completed on 9th August. Presumably Room 4 was used for drill and the less spectacular forms of physical training prior to this. Juniors 1 and 2 were brought to this large hall on the ground floor in session 1896- 97, and Room 17 in the upper flat, where the infants had been taught, was divided, the room in the north-west corner, No. 16, being taken over for sewing.
The present Room 8 was the Rector’s Room in the early days, and the Office was united to Room 7. A bust of Colin Lamont, headmaster of the old Mathematical School and a pioneer in the teaching of navigation, benignly surveyed the scene from between the two doors.
No doubt as an echo of the Education Act of 1892, and the proposals of the Secondary Education Committee in Renfrewshire in 1893 to recognise Greenock Academy as one of five major centres in the county, further extensions were completed in session 1894-95. These comprised a new gymnasium, two art rooms, two dressing-rooms, a science lecture room (now Rooms 19 and 19A) and a class room (No. 18). The janitor’s house was also completed in 1894 and occupied the south-west corner of the rear playground. By session 1899-1900 the old gymnasium had been converted into a chemical laboratory and a second flat was built above to accommodate another laboratory.
At the Jubilee celebrations in late September, 1905, a red carpet decorated the stairs as former pupils made their way to the new gymnasium for the conversazione, the gentlemen in evening wear, complete with high collars and tight-fitting trousers, and the ladies, with waists constricted to sixteen inches, wearing feather boas.
The demand for still more accommodation continued relentlessly, and the primary building was completed in session 1909-10. This consisted at first of five primary classrooms on the ground floor and, on the upper fiat of two Art rooms and a room for Nature Study, etc. The present music room was then an Art store and the workshop was also on this flat. The former Art rooms were converted into two Science laboratories, and in the same period larger dressing-rooms for the gymnasium were fitted up. Session 1910-1911 saw a covered way erected to join the original building to the primary building. The roof of the passage collapsed under a heavy weight of “protective” sandbags in 1940 just before a large number of primary children were due to cross to the main building.
In a minute of meeting of the property sub-committee of the Education Committee, dated December, 1926, it was stated: “The Special Sub-Committee had under consideration the whole question of accommodation at Greenock Academy.” As a result, in 1928, the lower chemical laboratory was transformed into an additional classroom for Mathematics. This rearrangement permitted provision to be made for an additional room required for the departments of Modern Languages and Classics. The sewing room in the old building was converted into a classroom when the subject found a new home in the former workshop. A new wing at the south end of the existing building was erected to provide accommodation on the ground floor for a workshop, metal room, and store. Above this was the laboratory (Room 24), and adjoining the stairway on the opposite side was a lunch room and its attendant kitchen.
The primary department continued to increase, and in 1931 a wooden annexe for the four infant classes was built in the back playground nearby the lane separating the Drill Hall from the school.
1939 saw the evacuation of many school children to less vulnerable areas, and at Rothesay Academy one could see the colours of many a school, including the maroon of Greenock Academy. The R.A.F. requisitioned the infant annexe and the classes were shifted to other parts of the school, chiefly Rooms 15 and 37. Two classes occupied the Hall and two others were taught for a period in Ardgowan School, being later transferred to Finnart School.
With the return to peace conditions the rambling collection of buildings was still incomplete, as increased provision had to be made for lunches in school and for pupils taking Domestic Science, now called Home- craft. Accordingly, pre-fabricated buildings were erected in what was once the pride of the school, the garden. The new domestic block was brought into use in March, 1950, and the new dining-hall and its accompanying kitchen at the beginning of a new session, on 28th August, 1950. The former lunch room was taken over as a library in May, 1954, and the old kitchen was converted into a second staff- room for the men.
The annexes detract from the impressiveness of the Academy frontage, but it must be said, too, that the classrooms which lie behind the facade of the old building fall far short of modern standards in classroom construction. One day it will certainly be found necessary, in the interests of health, comfort, and convenience, to make very radical changes in the solid structure built by our ancestors.