Former Hazel Trembath students to attend school at Winslow Centre mid-week, school board says

Hazel Trembath Elementary School students will be able to attend school mid-week at the Winslow Centre in Coquitlam, after their school burnt down Saturday morning.

The centre’s 10 classrooms will comfortably accommodate all 215 students and 20 staff displaced by the fire, School District 43 board trustee Michael Thomas said. The centre is an approximately 14-minute drive away from the former elementary school, and Thomas says it should be ready for students on Wednesday or Thursday.

“We are somewhat fortunate in that we do have a full 10 classrooms available there,” he said. “We know that in traumatic circumstances like this, community is so important… it was very important to us that we keep the students together within one facility.”

Thomas says the centre features a full gym and plenty of space to house the displaced students in the medium-term. He says the school board is also discussing options with the City of Port Coquitlam to see if there are any city facilities that the school could comfortably move into temporarily.

School district staff have been working around the clock to prepare the Winslow Centre as a temporary school, Thomas said.

“It’s been a lot of hard work over the past 48 hours,” Mayor Brad West said. “I can’t say enough about the staff who have been working long into the night to try and take care of our kids and make sure they have a place to go.”

Parent Megan MacDonald says it’s “an amazing relief” to hear a temporary school has already been found. She says the school board told parents school buses will be provided to transport students to the new location, which is good news for parents like herself who work during the day.

Charlotte, a grade 2 student at Hazel Trembath, says she was sad when she heard her school had burnt down, but now she’s excited to ride a school bus every day with her friends — something she only got to do for field trips before.

“I get to stay with my whole class room and I’m really excited to go on the school bus,” Charlotte said.

In the long term, Thomas and West say Hazel Trembath will definitely be rebuilt at its current location. For now, they say the school board’s biggest focus is keeping the students together.

“One of the last things we wanted to do was move the kids now, and then in two weeks have to move them again, and then a month down the road have to move them again,” he said.

“That type of disruption will be just one trauma, on top of another, on top of another, for our kids, and at this point we just need to pull together and support them.”

Students to receive extra support, counselling

The school district has activated its critical incident team to support students and staff, Thomas says, to provide additional counselling to students and staff.

“In situations like this, where there’s been a tragic incident with a school, we bring this team in to support the students and staff and provide additional counseling,” Thomas adds.

He says the Winslow Centre also houses the board’s entire learning services department, which includes additional teachers, counselling time, youth workers, and educational assistants, that will be available to students.

At a meeting with parents Saturday evening, Thomas says many parents expressed how grateful they were that their kids would be kept together, with their teachers, friends, and siblings, while they continue to cope with the loss.

“I’m a dad myself. I’m not sure it’s quite sunk in (for the students). We’re talking about kindergarten to grade five,” he said. “Obviously, yesterday, everyone was just kind of in shock.”

West says his son is one of the students who has been displaced and will be attending the Winslow Centre later this week.

He says his message to the students right now is: “You’ve got the entire community of Port Coquitlam behind you.”

The Coquitlam RCMP say the fire has been deemed “suspicious” and is currently under investigation.

With files from Angela Bower

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