Back to Brookland
Students could return to Sydney elementary school Feb. 22
Students, parents and staff were back inside Brookland Elementary for the first time since the devastating Thanksgiving Day floods Tuesday night, and for Glenna MacNeil, the news couldn’t have been much better.
The Grade 5 student learned — along with the other approximately 150 people attending the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board public update in the school gymnasium — that classes could resume there in two weeks.
“I’ve been here my whole entire life as a student — for all my six years of having education,” said the enthusiastic 10-year-old Sydney resident. “I would love to see my classroom once again and I’ll be with all my favourite teachers.”
Of course, MacNeil will be returning to a much different school if students return Feb. 22 following the Heritage Day long weekend, according to the school board’s plan.
The entire lower floor, which school board director of operational service Paul Oldford described as the “heart of the building,” was flooded by more than four feet of mud and water during the Oct. 10 storm and will remain closed until renovations are complete.
That means MacNeil and the other approximately 330 students will revolve through a mixture of regular and makeshift classes in the main level. While school principal Joyce Lively described it as “cosy,” she said it’s important for students to return to the “Brookland school community” after attending classes at Shipyard and Harbourside elementary schools for the past few months.
“Although our children are managing in the alternative sites, they’re not thriving as we would hope,” she said. “As a principal, I have seen a lot of stress and anxiety in children that doesn’t need to exist. When we come back under one roof and we become a Brookland school community once again, I think a lot of those stresses and anxieties will be relieved. That’s what we’re working toward.”
During the meeting, representatives from local consulting firms Exp and Amec reported that the school and its grounds are safe for students. No oil was found in the floodwaters, but holes had to be drilled into the cinder blocks to flush out any contaminants and one piece of playground equipment will be cleaned and tested again after a step tested positive for fecal coliform. While most parents seemed satisfied that the building is safe after being given the all-clear by the Fire Marshal’s Office and passing its final air quality test last week, there were concerns about construction noise disrupting classes, something Oldford said the school staff and board will work to minimize.
Wayne MacKay, whose daughters Bailey, 7, and Maggie, 5, attend the school, said he was more worried about the school flooding again.
“The bottom floor is kind of down in a trench and it was very easy for water to come in last time, so if we get another rain event like that, the same thing is going to happen again. We don’t want to go through all this again, obviously,” he said.
“I am concerned about the noise from the construction but if the grounds are clean and the building is clean, then I’m not too concerned about it. I’m just thinking long term about the next time it rains like that.”
Trish O’Neill, whose home on nearby St. Peter’s Road home was deemed uninhabitable after the flood, wondered why Brookland is safe to reopen when the Southend Community Centre went under the wrecking ball just a block down the road. She wondered if the province is throwing good money after bad by repairing Brookland and then turning it into a middle school after Sherwood Park closes in November 2020.
Oldford said the Southend Community Centre had to be demolished mainly because of construction issues.
“It had nothing to do with its location, or the fact that it was in the flood zone — it had everything to do with it had been damaged so badly that there was no repairing it,” he said, noting that a repeat of the Oct. 10 flood, which saw some areas of the CBRM hit by more than 220 millimetres of rain, is unlikely.
“Never say never, but the likelihood is so small that it’s not something we would worry about happening in the lifetime of the building.”