Port Coquitlam elementary school fire investigation to ‘take months’

The Coquitlam RCMP says the investigation into the fire at Hazel Trembath Elementary School will take months. As Kate Walker reports, police believe it was arson, but so far, don’t have any suspects.

After a Port Coquitlam school was razed by fire just under two weeks ago, the RCMP says it will take months to investigate the suspicious blaze at Hazel Trembath Elementary School.

The Coquitlam RCMP and School District 43 gave an update Thursday on the investigation into the fire that began early in the morning on Oct. 14.

Insp. Darren Carr says the whole school community wants answers as to what happened to the hub.

“This has had a massive impact on the community,” he said. “We all want answers. I want answers. Patricia wants answers, the family, the community wants answers. We’re working as fast and as diligently as we can.”

“I understand sometimes that from the public’s perception, that’s perhaps not quick enough. But we have to do a methodical thorough investigation. And if there is a person or persons that need to be held accountable, that is that is our end goal. But we have to balance the need for information, and giving answers and doing a proper investigation,” Carr added.

“How we continue to investigate…we have to assume the worst. Which is, it is an arson.”

Kim O’Neil is among the parents who are hoping for answers. She says the last couple of weeks have been “surreal.”

“The day it happened it was quite emotional and I just feel like we couldn’t believe that something like this would happen in our community,” O’Neil, whose daughter went to Hazel Trembath, told CityNews.

“We are very close, we see everything that goes on day to day in our school, and we just couldn’t believe that something this tragic would happen.”

She says the community has shown “an amazing amount of support” since the devastating fire, noting the many initiatives that have been launched to help students and staff.

O’Neil explains she feels police are not taking this investigation lightly, adding they’re “doing the best that they can.

“It’s an extremely horrific thing that happened and I hope they get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible,” the Port Coquitlam mom added.

Police continue to urge those who know anything about the fire, or those who were responsible, to come forward and speak with police.

“Explain to us what happened, and recognize that the harm that you’ve done to the community is significant,” Carr said. “And the potential harm that you may have done to yourselves is also significant.”

Meanwhile, school district Supt. Patricia Gartland says while the normal process for building a school is three years, the school and the Ministry of Education are working on an expedited schedule to rebuild the school.

“A normal timeline would probably be about three years, so anything sooner than that would be an expedited timeline,” Gartland said.

“We’re hoping we can get the plans all approved by in about nine months.”

Gartland says over $70,000 toward recovery efforts have been raised by the community so far.

‘Why, why would someone do this to our school?’

The 200 students of the school returned last week to classrooms at an alternate facility, one which she notes is feeling like a real school now.

“We anticipate that the children will attend the Winslow Centre now as long as it is needed. We’ve really transformed it into an elementary school. … We painted all the lockers to red and blue — the colours of Hazel Trembath,” she added.

“Winslow has really large classrooms because it’s an old junior high school. And so, big windows lots, lots of light. It’s actually quite a beautiful facility.”

O’Neil says the children seem to understand what happened — and also have questions.

“Why, why would someone do this to our school? I mean, they’re five to 10 — they don’t really understand why, but I think they just realize that some things happen and it’s unfortunate,” the mom explained.

She agrees the students are doing well in their new school, adding, “the district has been amazing.”

“They transformed Winslow Centre into a teeny, tiny Hazel Trembath. The kids are loving it, the teachers, I think, are loving it. They’re going to thrive there and I’m excited that they kept us all together,” O’Neil said.

“I hope the district gets to building and gets the debris out of here and gets this memory out of our heads and start to try to build a new one. I hope that in the next few years, I’m walking my daughter back to this site and not to a bus stop.”

With files from Kate Walker

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