C.E. Barry intermediate school will close, and its 150 students will be accommodated at other schools within the district in the fall, including Hope secondary.
The closure is the combined result of costly seismic upgrade work that needs to be completed, and falling enrolment numbers. The school district has engaged with the public through a number of community forums over the last week, and heard overwhelmingly that the the K-7 model is preferred.
Superintendent Karen Nelson said they needed to make a decision quickly on the future of C.E. Barry so that families could know where their children would be attending school next year.
“We need to get this done as soon as possible,” she told the board Tuesday evening. “People want answers.”
The Board voted (unanimously) in favour of closing C.E. Barry School; but voted 5-2 in favour of moving the Grade 5 and Grade 6 students to Coquihalla Elementary, and giving the Grade 7 students the option of attending either Silver Creek Elementary or Hope Secondary. Trustees Pat Furness and Tom Hendrickson voted against the grade 7 students going to the high school.
It is being called an interim decision, with the long term plan being the K-7 model at the elementary level, and a return to a Grades 8-12 model at Hope secondary.
Still, the school board’s decision hit a nerve with teachers who attended the meeting at Kent elementary Tuesday night, with some leaving the room in tears. Others used the question period to express their anger.
“As a parent I said I was going to hold you accountable,” said teacher Lenora Poulin. “The decision you made tonight was wrong.”
Other teachers, many of them parents themselves, said the board was not putting students first. That prompted a few trustees to snap back at C.E. Barry teachers who refused to work last Tuesday, citing concerns that the building wasn’t safe.
“It’s been a really stressful week,” said trustee Rose Tustian. “It started with the staff walking off the job (at C.E. Barry). I saw first hand students not being put first… You closed that school the day you walked out.”
The district had been mulling over the choice between closing the school and retrofitting it.
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 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.
Karen Virteau, a teacher at Silver Creek, said she was hoping the majority of C.E. Barry Grade 7s will choose to come to her school, where a Grade 7 program is already in place.
Portables will be used at Coquihalla to handle the new influx of students there. Two new portables will be bought at a cost of $120,000 each, and a third portable will be moved from C.E. Barry.
Trustee Marv Cope said the most important thing is making sure there is space available for teaching, no matter where it is.
“Teachers teach,” he said. “That’s what they do and it doesn’t matter where they go for a period of time. If you give them the space to do it, they teach.”
The district will immediately start planning a long term solution for the 2015-2016 school year.
– with files from the Hope Standard
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited since its initial publication.