By Jonathon Brodie/London Community News
There’s no doubt H.B. Beal Secondary School has changed a lot over its 100 years of existence, but if you ask former vice-principal Al Herrington, just as much has stayed the same.
Initially called London Industrial School when it opened in 1912, the school changed its name to the London Industrial and Art School that same year before sticking with H.B. Beal — the first principal of the Dundas Street school — in 1919.
One thing that hasn’t changed since the school started, Herrington said, is the focus on special arts programs and hands-on courses.
“It’s the most cosmopolitan of all schools,” he said. “Students might come for technical, they might come for art, they could come for so many reasons.”
At one time, desks were in a single file line with a typewriter on them and the newsroom smelled of greasepaint. In keeping with modern times now, the school is filled with computers and even hosts a daily TV show called the Beal Broadcast.
Although the arts program continues to grow at Beal, the venue for dance and drama has stayed the same since 1925. Beal’s auditorium seats 1,000, giving students a chance to rehearse and even perform in one of London’s biggest theatres.
“It’s one of the nicest and largest auditoriums still to this day,” said Lana Agostini, a performing arts teacher at Beal for the last 11 years and alumni of the school since 1993. “I’m very fortunate I get to work with students in this way. When you work with kids on that level, it’s very enriching.”
A piece of history Herrington is particularly proud of is a hallway leading from the front entrance of the auditorium running out to the school’s Dundas Street doorway.
Originally built in 1919, the 39-year former Beal employee said he worked hard to keep the original bricks and floor of the hallway untouched.
“I think it’s a symbol,” Herrington said about his fight to not have the original brick painted during his time as vice-principal. “It lets us remember who we are.”
To this day the hall hasn’t been touched.
Herrington retired back in 1996, but he can still be seen roaming the school and keeping up to date with students. The one thing he has noticed in all his years at the school is the passion the teens have for Beal.
Paige Foskett is one current scholar who embodies Beal’s school spirit.
“I think this school has a legacy,” said 18-year-old Foskett. “I’ve become a completely different person since coming to Beal. Performance defines me and that’s because of Beal.”
A total of 153 students enrolled in the school’s inaugural year, and today Beal boasts a headcount of more than 1,800.
According to the school’s principal, Don Macpherson, half of the students live within the city and the other half come from the surrounding area.
“Beal has something for everyone,” Macpherson said. “It doesn’t matter your cultural background, your ethnicity, or whatever – you can find home here.”
To remember Beal’s past, the school will be holding a 100th anniversary gala on Jan. 12 — the school’s official opening.
Some people in attendance at the event might even be able to give a history lesson to Herrington himself about the high school.
“Beal’s oldest mom will be there. She’s 104,” Herrington said about Alma Willis, who had two kids attend the school back in the 1930s. “She was there before the school was built, but she’s still in pretty good shape.”
The gala celebration starts in the morning with current students hosting a spirit day.
The evening celebration, not open to teens, begins at 7:15 p.m. with a reception in the auditorium. Current and past students will perform theatrical and musical presentations.
Tickets are $10 and are available at Beal, Tuckey’s Home Hardware, Chapters Book Stores and Belle Air Music.
For more information about the event go to www.beal100.com.