Volunteers Gabor Horvath, Lisa Horvath and Shannon Carlow ae determined to keep cleaning up the mess around the old Crofton Elementary School until the building is finally demolished. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Residents cleaning up dangerous mess at old Crofton Elementary

Back of the building ransacked with graffiti, drug paraphernalia and sparking a fear of fires

A group of concerned Crofton residents tired of inaction has taken matters into its own hands to clean up the abandoned Crofton Elementary School site.

About a dozen people turned out June 22 to begin a concerted campaign of painting over graffiti, cleaning up garbage and disposing of drug paraphernalia left behind by people who take drugs and set fires at the back of the building on a regular basis.

An extensive amount of time was spent on cleaning up the long grass and weeds, including two men going full bore with mowers and weedeaters. Local landscaper Derrick Edwards volunteered almost three hours of time the next night.

Diehard citizens vow to keep at it, armed with paint and rollers for as long as it takes until the building is finally demolished.

“Crofton has been greatly struggling with an increase in graffiti, purpose set fires, and associated activities this past year,” noted spokesperson Shannon Carlow. “We have worked hard to address the situation escalating from the origin of the old elementary school.”

“It’s a shame that our school district can’t get this thing done,” said Gabor Horvath, a prominent community member who organizes the annual Christmas parade in town.

“I think the building should be sold to the right bidder. The building is useless. You can’t make it into residential. It has to be demolished.”

No students have been housed in the building since 2009 when the new Crofton Elementary School opened. But School District 79 did not officially close it and turn jurisdiction over to the provincial Ministry of Education until January of 2017 while still maintaining control over the old building for security and maintenance.

“They did not think of the effect on community of a derelict building,” said Carlow. “I think they missed the boat and just ignored it.”

The site surrounding the old school deteriorated so much with long grass and unkept conditions that it’s sparking fears of a fire. Drug users already use tires for starting fires in the evenings and the Crofton Fire Department has been called to the site when fires have gotten away.

Signs of a fire started in a hole in the pavement last weekend were visible.

It’s conceded a major fire in the building would be catastrophic, considering its asbestos content.

Carlow broke down the situation at the site into short-term, medium- and long-term goals.

The short term would be to finish the fire suppression. They’ve received some great cooperation from the Municipality of North Cowichan, Carlow noted, in cutting down the grass, but little from the school district and private residents have undertaken a large part of the task themselves.

“The fire risk is high with the property being located within a residential neighbourhood and the grass not being mowed for a long, long, long time. Kids are setting fires on a regular basis.”

Local and provincial authorities have indicated nothing can be done because there are no monies available.

“Our medium term is to work with B.C. Hate Crimes,” Carlow added.

The content of the graffiti on the building has symbols and text that make it fall under that category. Liaison has been with the Cowichan Valley Intercultural Society and its focus is education and resources.

“Our long-term goal is to get the province to secure the building better and get serious about the demolition,” said Carlow.

The group has garnered considerable support in its endeavours. Block Watch is actively involved and the Cowichan Valley Schools Heritage Society will be taking up the matter at its next board meeting in September.

Taking back the community means “we are building some organized structure and submissions to the province,” Carlow indicated. Efforts are also being undertaken to liaise with local fire officials, but there’s been no progress on getting a coordinated conversation going yet.

The process has seemed painstaking at times, but there’s determination to see the situation finally addressed to completion.

“I’m really impressed with our community,” Carlow said. “We’re trying to be extremely pro-active.”

She noted it’s a lovely site in the midst of the community that might make some nice family housing one day when it’s cleaned up for good rather than left in its current horrible state.

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