Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday, May 30, 2014.
One of the books both my sons loved when they were little was ‘The Little House’ written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton, first published in 1942. It tells the story of a house that stood ever so happily on a hill, surrounded by apples trees and the sound of children.
The house stood as the hills became more populated and a new city grew around it until – spoiler alert! – city life almost crushed the little house. Luckily, it was saved by the well-meaning descendants of the people who built it.
Lots of meaningful lessons to say the least.
We read it countless times. Every time they would look at the detailed drawings they’d find yet another thing they’d missed last time.
Here’s what I will always remember about it, unrelated to the way it was written. I bought the book when my oldest son was two and we had just moved into a neighborhood that had an old street with many old stores. Among them, a children’s bookstore with many gems and reasonably priced.
A year later, the bookstore closed and was sorely missed. Rent and maintenance costs were too high.
Many old stores in Vancouver had the same fate and so did many old, yet well-built heritage houses. Unfortunately, there was no timely arrival of well-meaning descendants of the people who built them to save them all…
The recent discussions about the closure of Stuart Wood Elementary brought back the memories of those days and much more.
A few days ago, many feared that the fate of the school was to be announced during a School Board meeting, but the said meeting was in fact a presentation of the available options.
The alternatives to what we have at the moment are many and interesting at that.
One is moving Stuart Wood Elementary to where the Beattie School of Arts now stands and thus following a chain of events that imply a massive shuffling of students between many schools. Or we could renovate it to bring it up to a modern standard and take it from there.
The first has been met with resistance from students, parents and teachers for many good reasons.
The other, which implies a series of serious renovations to the existing Stuart Wood building, a designated heritage building and presently owned by the City of Kamloops, brings out many important issues as well.
Some necessary modifications, such as an external fire escape, are inapplicable due to the heritage designation (though some believe that they could be done nonetheless,) and removal of asbestos can be potentially harmful if not done right. And yes, renovations are expensive. Very.
As it stands now, the school is not suitable for what a school should offer. There is restricted parking for staff members, which could be a serious issue should an emergency vehicle be needed at the school, there is no access for disabled students, staff or parents, and some of the students bathrooms are, simply put, scary to some of the young students. Dark and moldy can do that.
If these problems could be solved, and others too (increased enrollment numbers sound good only on paper when a school is not suitable for increased numbers,) the bright side is that Kamloops would maintain a beautiful heritage building that has long served the community and has seen many generations of students graduate and bidding goodbye to its unique Doric columns proudly guarding one of the entrances.
Another alternative proposed by one of the school trustees, Annette Glover, is to move the students from Stuart Wood to Lloyd George (thus make the latter bi-lingual once again,) so that children residing in the downtown area will have access to a community school.
With options abounding and no solution yet, here’s the most important thing of all: every community needs a school. More so, it needs a school that children can walk to.
Whether we are parents of students from any of these schools, downtown residents or not, we should agree that a community school is not something we should let go.
As it stands now, Stuart Wood Elementary is the only English-speaking school in the downtown area and it is not a school of choice, but one that serves downtown residents, including many low-income ones whose options go from limited to very limited should a community school disappear.
Yet renovating and keeping it as a school takes a back seat to the vital issue this closure has brought forth: the possible disappearance of a community school. That, we cannot and should not allow.
When we lose a community school, we fail our children. Let’s not.