I grew up “outside the overpass” but, for over a decade now, I have called downtown St. John’s my home. In recent weeks there has been a lot of discussion about the future of downtown and what can be done to draw people here.
For me, the ability to walk places is a major attraction.
I walk to work, to the park, to the corner store and, until recently, I walked my children to Bishop Feild Elementary School.
There are challenges to living downtown — snow-clearing and high cost of housing are only the start – but the convenience of being able to concentrate most of our day-to-day activities within a few blocks made up for all of it.
Since my children started school, I have gotten to know many more of my neighbours, and feel part of the community that surrounds Bishop Feild.
Since the incident in October 2017, when damage to the gym ceiling caused the school to be temporarily relocated to Topsail Road, my family and many others have had to rearrange our lives. It is no longer easy to attend school functions.
What used to be a five-minute walk from home or work now requires juggling use of the car and scheduling half a day off work. We miss a lot of things we would like to attend, and a child getting sick at school can require an expensive taxi ride. The school community is diverse and the catchment includes social housing areas.
Many families are really struggling, and these logistics only add to their stress.
Through it all, friends and family ask, “What’s happening with the school? Are they going to reopen it?”
We have no idea. Initially, updates from the school board and the Department of Education kept us informed. Since the Department of Transportation and Works took over, updates have been sparse and there have been many unexplained delays. The latest announcement that the anticipated reopening will be pushed back to January 2020 was yet another blow to an already frustrated school community.
Delays in this project should be cause for concern beyond downtown residents. Five busses now arrive at the school on Topsail Road each morning, instead of the one that came to Bond Street.
The very conservative estimates that I have obtained suggest that this is costing the school board at least an additional $15,000 to $20,000 for each month that our children are displaced.
I know that delays in construction projects are common, but I consider it completely unreasonable that 15 months after the damage occurred, there is still no tender issued for the repair work. Until that tender is awarded, we have no guarantee the work will ever be done. With an election coming, I speak for many Bishop Feild parents in saying that we are no longer willing to wait patiently for something to happen.
We want a firm commitment from our government that our community school will reopen — the sooner the better.
Kelly Batten Hender