School district relocates C.E. Barry students

Move was made after teachers refused to enter the building on Tuesday due to seismic safety concerns


C.E. Barry staff and students have been moved to different schools for the remainder of the year.

The Fraser-Cascade school board made the decision yesterday after teachers refused to enter the building on Tuesday due to seismic safety concerns. Students were sent home as there wasn’t enough administrators to provide supervision.

“We understand that these moves will create disruption at this time year,” superintendent Karen Nelson said in a letter to parents. “Student safety is of prime importance to the board of education and we appreciate your understanding during this time.”

As of today (Thursday), Grade 5s will be moved to Coquihalla elementary, Grade 6s bused to Silver Creek elementary, and Grade 7s relocated to Hope secondary. Regular bus students will continue to use the same buses as always in the morning and will then be dropped off at their new schools.

The school district is currently considering the closure of C.E. Barry due to the cost of required seismic mitigation. Administration provided an overview of the building’s status and options for its  future at a public consultation meeting on Monday at the rec centre. On May 12, 2012, the government announced $122 million of new capital funding to carry out structural upgrades for 14 school with high seismic risk. C.E. Barry was identified as a vulnerable structure at high risk of widespread damage or structural collapse, likely not reparable after a major seismic event. As the process progressed, the ministry of education directed the school board to focus on seismic upgrades to ensure safety, not school renewal, and pursue the lowest cost option.

Engineering consultants were hired to produce a seismic project identification report for C.E. Barry, with solutions for structural upgrades to address life safety. The detailed cost estimate for the work came in at $4 million. The district is now looking at a number of options, however an addition to Coquihalla elementary appears to be the most-effective. The provincial government has said it will fund four new classrooms there to accommodate students if C.E. Barry is closed. The closure is projected to save the district $200,000 annually in operating costs, which could be used for student programming or additional recreational facilities.

Parents, teachers and students expressed their concerns over the possible closure of C.E. Barry at the open house and urged the district to fight for their school. Many left feeling disillusioned about the outcome and worried about the building’s safety.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s still an option to have the board pay for some of the seismic upgrade and save our school and the board has said ‘no it’s not going to happen,” said Grade 5 teacher Donna Kneller on Tuesday morning, who is also the health and safety staff representative at the school.

“Teachers and support staff discussed it and decided we would seek reference from WorkSafe B.C. Of course we’re always concerned about the safety of the students, that’s first and foremost, but work safe has stated they are concerned about the safety of the employees.”

Teachers waited outside the school on Tuesday morning for guidance from WorkSafe B.C. while administration scrambled to contact parents for student pickup.

Frances Berthiaume, C.E. Barry Parent Advisory Council secretary, was on the phone with her son while he waited for a ride. She said it “was complete bedlam” in the background.

“There were parents yelling, parents cleaning out their kids lockers, parents coming and getting their kids and students were all emotional,” she said. “I don’t think there’s immediate danger and I don’t think other parents feel that either. I think students would have been OK to finish out the last two weeks. The timing could have been better. To throw this into the mix, I think it was a last straw for a lot of people.”

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness said the government is committed to a seismic upgrade at C.E. Barry school if that’s what the community wants. However, funding would still need to be negotiated. He also cautioned that it might not be the best option for Hope given the current enrolment challenges.

“With its plan to close the school, the board’s trying to make its best use of tax dollars and the ministry supports and prefers that,” said Throness, adding that the school board hasn’t submitted a seismic upgrade project proposal to the ministry. “It doesn’t make a lot of economic sense to keep and maintain a lot of empty classrooms. The government supports what the school board is doing and the direction of the school board right now.”

Another open house regarding C.E. Barry school will take place in the Hope rec centre conference room on Saturday (June 14) from 9-11 a.m.

Trustees will then consider the short term and long term options and determine what steps need to be taken next at the board meeting on June 17 at Kent elementary. If the board decides on an addition to Coquihalla elementary, building will be undertaken in the next eight to 12 months.

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