Abby Schools

‘Fighting and war’: Abbotsford students, parents oppose temporary relocation

Abbotsford Traditional Secondary parents questioned logistics, cited rivalry over relocation proposal

If Abbotsford Traditional Secondary School students are temporarily relocated to Rick Hansen Secondary School, there will be “fighting and war” between the schools, one parent said at an at-times heated public information session on ATSS seismic upgrades.

Abbotsford School District spokesperson Kayla Stuckart estimated a turnout of around 1,000 on Wednesday night in the ATSS gymnasium, filling tables on the gym floor, packing tight onto the gym’s bleachers and lining the sides of the room.

School board chair Stan Petersen was met with applause after kicking off the meeting by assuring attendees that a closure was not among the district’s considerations for the school’s future.

RELATED: Abbotsford Traditional Secondary hosting seismic upgrade info session

RELATED: Seismic upgrade at Yale will cost district

“We see a very passionate group of parents and students that love their school, and we can clearly see that. There’s some suggestion that we have a preconceived plan for what we’re doing, and that is absolutely not the case,” Petersen told The News after the meeting. “If we had a preconceived plan, why would we have this meeting?”

The seismic upgrades are expected to take about 18 months. The foremost issue at the information session was how the district will accommodate ATSS students during this period, particularly the suggestion of temporarily moving them to RHSS.

One parent questioned whether students would have to wear uniforms at RHSS, suggesting they could get bullied by non-uniformed students at the school. Another cited rivalries between the school, suggesting there would be “fighting and war” between the schools if they are forced together.

RELATED: More Lower Mainland schools picked for seismic upgrades

Questions of how the proposed temporary relocation would work logistically were typically met with responses from ASD superintendent Kevin Godden that those details had not yet been worked out, which caused frustration for some attendees.

After thanking the administration for holding the public information session, one student then, with a tone of sarcasm, thanked officials for “barely answering any questions.”

“I thought that they would have been better prepared with how they were going to logistically move it forward,” said one parent in attendance, Carelle McKellan.

“I felt that if you’re coming to present an option that you should have it played out in your mind and figured out what’s going to happen with the staff, what’s going to happen with the students, what’s going to happen with the overall picture before you actually come and talk to the parents.”

McKellan said coming to the school without those answers “leaves everybody hanging” and unable to properly determine what the best option would be.

However, Godden pushed back on that.

“You communicate a bit of a different message to people when you begin and have ready answers to questions like that, because I’ve seen the other side of it. ‘Oh, so you guys have made your mind up, then? Because you happen to know,’ ” Godden said.

Total and partial school replacements have been ruled out by the district as too costly, as the Ministry of Education will only cover the lowest-cost option, being the seismic upgrades.

Those upgrades were originally brought up at the school district around five years ago, but were delayed by the ministry. In that time, the estimated cost of the seismic upgrade has skyrocketed from around $2 million to nearly $18 million.

Parents expressed frustration from what they see as neglect from the school district regarding long-needed maintenance work at the school.

The district says it will be doing $5 million to $8 million in maintenance work on the school during the seismic work, naming HVAC and electrical systems, as well as the building envelope as areas needing maintenance.

Godden said that maintenance was put off so it could be done alongside the seismic work.

“There is a cost factor associated with going in and doing a bunch of those things ahead of a seismic project, and then having to gut the building again [for the seismic project],” Godden said.

“So you defer some of the maintenance for the purposes of consolidating the effort in one. I think people expect some stewardship of the public purse.”

Find more of our coverage on the Abbotsford School District here.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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