The first Currie Street Model School, it was built between 1890 and 1893 by contractors Walter and Norris in brick with stone dressings. It had two very long classrooms and 10 smaller classrooms, most of which had the usual stepped floors. Also typical was the segregation of the sexes and age groups. Boys’ classrooms were on the first floor, and girls, infants and babies on the ground floor. The school could accommodate 900 students.
The design was characteristic of Charles Edward Owen Smyth. Irish-born Owen Smyth gained some experience in Melbourne before arriving in South Australia in 1876. He joined the architectural branch of the Education Office under E.J Woods and was promoted to head of the Education Branch of the Architect-in-Chief’s Department. When the department was abolished he became superintendent of Public Buildings in 1886 until his retirement in 1920.
Owen Smyth was a man for his times, his appointment coinciding with the onset of the 1890s depression which drastically affected spending on public works. Function was of prime importance, influencing his choice of designs and materials. Pragmatic but confident, he designed several well-known public buildings when treasury funds were meagre. They included the north wing of the South Australian Museum, 1894-95; the Art Gallery of South Australia, 1899; the Brookman Building of the South Australian Institute of Technology, 1903 (see PL31); the Advanced School for Girls, 1891; extensions to the Treasury Building, 1907; and extensions to the South Australian Institute Building, 1906.
After hisdeath in 1925, Owen Smyth obituary declared that “no one else was nearly so familiar with the facts relating to state-owned building and building schemes; no one was better qualified to ‘get things done’ expeditiously, economically and well ... In the execution of contracts, he saw that the public obtained fair value for outlays involved, and insisted upon a high standard of quality in the work. Nothing appeared to escape the scouting of his vigilant eye. Poor workmanship or defective materials evoked from him unsparing denunciation.”
Owen Smyth oversaw renovations to the Currie Street School in 1908, when it became an observation school for training provisional teachers. Between 1920 and 1955 it operated variously as a primary school and as part of Adelaide High School. It then became the Correspondence School and in 1959 an annexe of the Adelaide Teachers’ College. Later the building formed part of Western Teachers’ College of Advanced Education, until it was taken over by the Department of Further Education as the Migrant Education Branch and from 1978 as the College of External Studies. It has now become part of the Adelaide Remand Centre.
Owen Smyth’s design and materials for the building influenced the appearance of later buildings alongside.