Just part of the constant mess at the old Crofton Elementary School site. This is how it looked after a fire there in early January before a community group began regualr clean-ups. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Crofton group brings in Routley to press for action on old elementary school site

Fire risk the greatest fear for residents until building gets demolished

Dan Robin had what he called a very productive one-hour meeting with Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley last week, as a diligent Crofton community group continues to work toward better security and clean-up at the old Crofton Elementary School site to prevent the fire risk before the building finally gets demolished.

“He was very, very dynamic in his response,” Robin said of Routley.

“We are going to work together with the Ministry of Education towards a solution for the building.”

Robin pointed out Routley also wants to partner with School District 79 and the Municipality of North Cowichan toward eventually repurposing the property for the community and getting rid of the people who take drugs there and constantly litter the grounds and plaster the building with graffiti.

“It’s going to be the start of the rejuvenation of that block,” said Robin.

With Routley on board and numerous letters of support coming in, the group is making strides.

Routley has said he’s making this issue a top priority and alerting the Minister of Education accordingly.

The hang-up at the moment is funds and group leader Shannon Carlow said it’s going to cost $540,000 to demolish the building. School District 79 Board Chair Candace Spilsbury confirmed that following a meeting with Carlow and her group last week.

“The total request for capital funding to the Ministry is $640,000 when the cost of site restoration is added,” noted Spilsbury.

She said everyone agreed they wanted the old school demolished as soon as possible. The key, it seems, may lie with the availability of so-called slippage funds from the Ministry of Education to make that happen.

“We don’t know when the Ministry will approve the capital funding for demolition,” Spilsbury indicated. “We receive our next annual district capital funding approval announcement in March 2019 but we are hoping for approval before that date.

“Our director of Operations reviewed the maintenance and security provisions at the site, the maintenance has been kept at minimal level as the demolition approval has been expected very soon and we need to be cost-effective with so many facilities to maintain.”

The board agreed to review the maintenance plan at the school site following the conversation, Spilsbury noted, to look at fencing the whole school, trimming shrubbery and increasing the security. Carlow noted the district agreed to implement the plan derived at the meeting and she expected that to begin this week.

“We discussed the next step after demolition which would be entering into the Disposal Consultation Process which would involve consultation with the local government and the community,” Spilsbury indicated. “It is our hope that we can move forward on this process in the very near future.”

“The wheel is rolling right now,” said Robin.

He added residents can look for a petition soon to be signed and submitted to the government.

Robin said this situation has reached a crisis point because there were five fires outside the building the last four weeks so it’s a risk to the community, a sentiment echoed by Carlow.

“We did prove drugs, graffiti and garbage go hand-in-hand,” she said of the group’s recent clean-up efforts.

“As soon as we stopped, it all started again and there was two small fires.”

The old Crofton Elementary School was closed in 2009 when a new school opened in the community.

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