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Trafalgar parents push for new school

This hand-coloured photo shows Trafalgar in 1931 when it was the city
This hand-coloured photo shows Trafalgar in 1931 when it was the city's new junior high school. More than 80 years later, parents are asking what they can do to hasten its replacement.
— image credit: George Meeres photo

Faced with a building that is “literally falling apart,” the parent advisory committee at Nelson’s Trafalgar Middle School is trying to kickstart its stalled replacement process.

The 90-year-old facility has been atop the Kootenay Lake school district’s capital plan for five years, awaiting over $22 million in provincial funding for a rebuild, but trustees say the government’s priorities are fast-growing districts and schools that need seismic upgrades. Trafalgar doesn’t fall in either category.

Parents, however, don’t want the project forgotten and met Tuesday to talk about it.

“It’s easy for things to fall off the table,” said committee secretary Greg Haydu. “If we don’t speak up, there is no pressure. But if we keep it in the forefront, maybe our turn comes up.”

Haydu, who has one son in the school and another who will attend in a few years, acknowledged his children probably won’t be around to benefit directly from a replacement or renovation. However, he said it’s worth pushing the project for the community’s sake.

Haydu said Trafalgar “looks like a penitentiary in certain lights,” which contributes to an unfortunate reputation, but didn’t want to paint a picture of doom and gloom as his son is “thriving” there. “Our school is not defined by the physical structure,” he said.

Committee co-chair Greg Bezaire agreed Trafalgar has a “dedicated team [of teachers] and kids who love being here. We’re proud of the school. It has lots of positive attributes.”

However, he and fellow chair Andrew Jones enumerated the building’s many shortcomings: uneven floors, ancient carpet and linoleum, outdated bathrooms, and no cooling system. There are also electrical and plumbing issues. “The building is literally falling apart,” Bezaire said.

Other failings are less obvious: due to the school’s layout, some classrooms have Internet access but others don’t; the public address system is audible in certain parts, but not others, raising safety concerns; and the building lacks a central hub. “We want students to have better outcomes, but clearly a school in disrepair inhibits learning,” Jones said.

School district secretary-treasurer Kim Morris said school rebuilds typically sit on wish lists for eight to 10 years before being approved, but she believes it’s significant that the board, parents, and others agree Trafalgar is the top priority.

She described the process as “exciting and frustrating” and said it’s tough to decide how much to spend maintaining a facility that might be on the verge of being replaced. Even then, there are limits because the district’s annual grant of $1.4 million for repairs has to be spread across its 26 schools. (The parent advisory committee has indicated it is prepared to spend money on improvements and has already purchased three new water fountains.)

Second-year principal Carol-Ann Leidloff said she surveyed students and parents about their concerns soon after she arrived and found the bathrooms were a major concern. The district responded with “cosmetic upgrades that made a big difference.”

Trustee Bill Maslechko said he felt they were on the verge of a new school a few years ago, but have received a different message the last few times they’ve spoken to the Ministry of Education.

Fellow trustee Lenora Trenaman said she didn’t want to discourage parents but cautioned that “It doesn’t matter how hard we advocate, we’re not getting a new school anytime soon. The ministry recognizes Trafalgar is in bad shape, but says others are just as bad.” She noted it took 11 years to get the new Crawford Bay school to the building stage.

MLA Michelle Mungall, who was also present at the meeting and toured the school, credited parents for taking the issue on and recalled that when the new Crawford Bay school opened in 2009, a trustee told her “The next project is Trafalgar” but not much has changed since.

Mungall mentioned Trafalgar in the legislature recently as an example of a project she thinks could better use the $1 million the province is giving the resort municipality of Jumbo Glacier. She also said she would ask BC’s education minister where Trafalgar is on the priority list.

Trafalgar was built in 1924 with several additions since. Its 2013-14 enrollment of 412 in Grades 6 to 8 is projected to decline to 371 next year. However, a rebuilt school would be intended for 650 students in K to 8 and result in the closure of South Nelson elementary, which is in as bad if not worse shape.

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