Police arrest squatters at Rutherford Elementary School in October. (News Bulletin file)

Repair bill comes in at $72K for last fall’s ‘Schoolhouse Squat’ in Nanaimo

Rutherford School was occupied Oct. 5-6 by advocates for people experiencing homelessness

The repair bill for a shuttered Nanaimo school damaged in last October’s ‘Schoolhouse Squat’ totals $72,000, says Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools.

Advocates for people experiencing homelessness broke into and occupied Rutherford Elementary School on Oct. 5 before being removed by RCMP on Oct. 6, with 26 arrested. It was initially estimated there was $100,000 in damage, including to doors and the roof, and that a hazmat team and additional security would be needed.

In an e-mail, Carrie McVeigh, Nanaimo school district secretary-treasurer, said costs were absorbed in the district operating budget and two major expenditures were $16,000 to Footprints Security and over $39,000 for property restoration. Other repairs, according to school vandalism reports, included $260 on Oct. 6 to repair exterior doors, $446 on Dec. 14 to Richmond Elevator for repair to a vandalized elevator and $160 on Feb. 7 to re-install interior doors “taken down by political activists.”

According to the school district, Lewkowich Engineering Associates Ltd. was hired to review and identify hazards and Belfor Property Restoration and school district staff did repair work.

“There were certain things in the building that were required to be put back into place, in other words return it to the condition at which it was prior to the event and that was essentially it, the scope of work,” Pete Sabo, school district director of planning and operations told the News Bulletin. “So the building now, it’s clean, it’s empty, the doors were put back on, the items where they had barricaded are cleaned up, damage repaired. Essentially ready to go for whatever the future brings for that building.”

Sabo said hazards were related to various drug paraphernalia that was found.

“There were a number of hard and soft case storage etc. that there could’ve been invisible hazards … and there was a lot of items that were brought with them into the building,” said Sabo.

RELATED: Discontent City campers break into empty school

RELATED: RCMP arrest 26 squatters at Rutherford school

RELATED: Costs to clean up ‘Schoolhouse Squat’ will have impact

Charlene McKay, school board chairwoman, said in an e-mail that there has been no compensation from any of the people charged and she couldn’t comment about further legal action.

“I can’t speak to further charges at this time as this is not something the current board as a whole has explored,” said McKay. “The previous board did provide an impact statement to the RCMP with regard to how this incident affected the district.”

McKay said the break-in was unfortunate, but the district does want to help.

“Our current board recognizes the difficulties faced by many people who are dealing with homelessness and lack of affordable housing,” said McKay. “In recognizing this, we are committed to continue working in partnership with the City of Nanaimo, and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on [a memorandum of understanding for publicly owned land on Fifth Street] on options for affordable housing, recreational space, and learning spaces; this will be in consultation with Snuneymuxw as the land is within their ancestral territory.”

Supplies cost $7,612 and labour and benefits cost $8,288, McVeigh said.

At the time, squatters denied doing damage, saying it was police damaging doors when they entered.

“On a simple, logical level, if we were trying to convert a building into a home for 300 people, why would we destroy the inside of it?” asked Laura Riach of Alliance Against Displacement last October.

– with files from Greg Sakaki/The News Bulletin



reporter@nanaimobulletin.com

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