School district ‘working hard on a plan to support continued learning’ after Hazel Trembath Elementary School burns down, as authorities warn public to avoid area due to potentially hazardous air.
School district ‘working hard on a plan to support continued learning,’ as police warn of air quality risks
The mayor of Port Coquitlam, B.C., says he is “devastated” and “shattered” after a massive fire — which authorities have deemed suspicious — destroyed one of the city’s elementary schools on Saturday, burning some parts of the building to the ground.
On Saturday evening, parents met with school administrators and staff as the district makes alternative plans for Hazel Trembath Elementary School students’ classes.
Brad West, mayor of the city of roughly 60,000 residents east of Vancouver, said he attended the school as a child, and his own son is a pupil there.
“Like all Hazel families, my heart is shattered,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The conversations with my son who attends Grade 1 at Hazel have been incredibly hard.
“I’m absolutely devastated to see the images of Hazel Trembath gone. As a former student myself and the parent of a Grade 1 student there, I know what a special place Hazel is.”
Emergency services responded to the fire on Confederation Drive shortly after 3 a.m. The school was unoccupied and no one was injured in the blaze, according to RCMP.
Police asked the public to stay away from the area Saturday evening due to “potentially hazardous air quality,” which the RCMP said could last several days.
The school district held a meeting with parents at 5 p.m., saying on its website that staff and administrators “are working hard on a plan to support continued learning for the school community.”
Coquitlam School Board Chair Michael Thomas, a trustee for Port Coquitlam, says the school has nearly 300 students from Kindergarten to Grade 5 and is trying its best to keep classes together.
“Everyone’s devastated and in shock,” he said. “We know that it’s going to be upsetting for a number of kids and our critical response team will be available to them.”
Mounties say they are investigating the fire, which they say appears to be suspicious.
“We are asking anyone who may have video surveillance in the area of Hazel Trembath Elementary School around the time of the fire, to contact our investigators,” said Cpl. Alexa Hodgins in a news release Saturday morning.
“Police are also looking to speak with anyone who may have been in the area between the late evening of Oct. 13, 2023 and the early morning of Oct. 14, 2023.”
The fire continued to burn well into the afternoon, sending smoke billowing over the city as firefighters doused the ravaged school.
The school’s entrance was scorched, a CBC reporter observed at the scene, and while some parts of the structure remained intact, the fire appeared to have gutted several classrooms, blowing out the windowpanes.
Several students and their families watched the destruction from behind the fire line, expressing sadness and disbelief.
“I’m really sad that the school got burned,” said Nick Kalganova, who started at the school two years ago when his family moved to Canada.
His mother Oksana says the school and teachers have been wonderful and she is worried about where her son will go come Monday.
“I hope they will find options for online learning or other schools,” she said.
Former students and community members also said they were gutted.
Abby Code, 13, says seeing the school reduced to ash feels as if she has lost her home.
“I met all my best friends here so it’s sad, seeing all my memories just go away,” she said.
District working to relocate students
School officials say it’s “all hands on deck” to find a places for students to learn, likely at other schools in the city’s packed district.
The school district hosted an information meeting for students and families Saturday at 5 p.m. at Pitt River Community Middle School in Port Coquitlam, Thomas said.
Port Coquitlam Fire and Rescue Services was not available for comment before publication.
With files from David P. Ball, Moira Wyton, and Yasmin Gandham