Schools under siege

David Whalen
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Summertime vandalism takes its toll

Bishop Edward Feild might well be chagrined if he was alive today.

Walk around the back of the Gothic-style elementary school on Bond Street that bears his name and you'll find a wall full of graffiti tags.

Anyone visiting I.J. Samson junior high on Bennett Avenue in St. John's will find a door that's a mangled combination of plywood and broken glass. The "welcome" sign above the door seems ironic.

The windows at the entrance to Holy Cross Junior Highschool are in bad condition. Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Bishop Edward Feild might well be chagrined if he was alive today.

Walk around the back of the Gothic-style elementary school on Bond Street that bears his name and you'll find a wall full of graffiti tags.

Anyone visiting I.J. Samson junior high on Bennett Avenue in St. John's will find a door that's a mangled combination of plywood and broken glass. The "welcome" sign above the door seems ironic.

At Virginia Park elementary, windows boarded up with plywood evoke nostalgia for the Wild West. Unfortunately, Clint Eastwood is nowhere to be seen.

These are some of the many schools in the St. John's area that have been targeted by vandals and graffiti "artists."

Darrin Pike, interim director of education with the Eastern School District, says last year alone the school board spent about $166,000 to repair broken glass.

"Obviously, that prevents us from doing some enhancements that we'd like to do, and building improvements and grounds improvements that could help programming for students," he said.

"Once you spend that much money on repairs, you're taking away from where we could be spending the money in a more educationally sound practice."

In June, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary announced it would step up its investigations of graffiti-related crime after the capital city said it had already exceeded its $20,000 annual budget for graffiti removal.

Since then, charges have been laid, yet Const. Paul Davis, the RNC's media relations officer, says schools are still being targeted regularly.

"It's really hard to pin it down because it happens so often," Davis said.

He says people who damage schools - often the very schools they attend - don't understand the dramatic effect vandalization has on school board budgets.

"What (vandals) don't realize is every time you cause damage to school infrastructure it takes funding from the school board's budget to repair it," Davis said.

"You're diminishing the ability of schools to provide the resources necessary to teach our children. You're taking away your own education."

Davis said that this time of year - when schools are gearing up for the start of a new year - and the end of the school year in June are the worst times for vandalism, graffiti and break-ins.

"This time of year we start to keep a closer eye on schools," Davis said.

Some schools, such as Virginia Park elementary, have resorted to boarding up windows during the summer to thwart rock-hurling vandals, Pike said. Others have installed surveillance cameras.

"That's a costly endeavour in itself, but that's a practice that you'll probably see increase over time," he said. "It does seem to cut back on some of the damage to schools that encounter (damage) in a major way."

Davis said St. John's residents tend to report suspicious activity and the noise of broken glass when it occurs.

"That's our best defence against these types of activities," he said.

Pike said it's unlikely that all the damage done over the summer will be repaired by the time Eastern District schools open next week.

"Our priority right now is to get schools opened, so the timeline on (repairs) will be delayed until schools are open," he said.

Until then, schools like Holy Cross elementary will remain covered in graffiti and the classrooms at the back of Bishops College will stay drafty, thanks to the row of shattered windows.

dwhalen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Bishops College

Geographic location: St. John's, Virginia Park, Bond Street Bennett Avenue Wild West Eastern District

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