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Six more weeks: Oxford school bells will ring again in November

Gary Adams, Regional Executive Director of Education at the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education, took questions from parents Sept. 24 at the Oxford Arena.
Gary Adams, Regional Executive Director of Education at the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education, took questions from parents Sept. 24 at the Oxford Arena. - Dave Mathieson

OXFORD, N.S. – Six weeks.

That’s the expected timeline for Oxford Regional Education Centre students to return to their own school.

“The first week of November, that makes me very happy,” said Heather Jacklin, who has three school-aged kids. “Although, like I’ve expressed, the secrecy and the lack of transparency from the very beginning makes me kind of uneasy and unsettled.”

After faulty masonry work was discovered at OREC, parents in Oxford were informed Aug. 23 that their kids would start the 2018 school year in Pugwash at both Cyrus Eaton Elementary and Pugwash District High School. Since then, they’ve been left in the dark, not knowing if their kids would be bussed to Pugwash for one month, one year, or forever.

Light at the end of the tunnel was shed on that darkness Sept. 24, when parents gathered at the Oxford arena to be informed primary repair work will be complete in the first week of November.

“As a parent and a representative here I applaud that,” said Tory Rushton, MLA for Cumberland South. “It’s been weeks of questions and no answers.”

OREC students have been attending school in Pugwash since Sept. 7, and the change has had a big impact on Rushton’s wife Tracy.

“I’ve been in the legislature ever since day one of the new school year, so it has been much more taxing on my wife, along with all the other parents, than it has on me,” said Rushton. “It’s certainly been a learning curve and, I’m sure, everyone in the area looks forward to it ending.”

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'We're juggling'

Scott and Joan Mahoney have two kids at OREC who are now bussed to Pugwash.

“We have a daughter in the end of high school, and we have a special needs son that’s just starting Grade 7,” said Joan.

Although there have been a few bumps in the road, the Mahoneys say the change has been made tolerable.

“I brought up my concerns, and I said, ‘I’m worried about this, this, and this’ and they came up with a reasonable solution in a short period of time,” said Joan.

There has been some scrambling.

“We’re juggling, and the school board people are juggling, so we’re equally sharing the burden,” said Joan.

Taking into consideration the molasses-like speed of government decision-making, Scott said he’s impressed with how quick the announcement was made.

“They had a lot of very impactful decisions to make in a very short order of time, and I’m impressed with how fast and how many decisions they made,” said Scott. “Overall, they did a pretty darn good job.”

'A lot of people were scrambling'

Gary Adams, regional executive director of education at the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education, explained the timeline of events.

“It was something that unfolded in the weeks of August when people would have been coming off school vacations and fully expecting that school was going to go back in as normal,” said Adams. “It was news to them, but it was news to us as well. A lot of people were scrambling, doing an incredible amount of work in a short period of time to fully assess what the concerns were.”

It took several weeks to assess what repairs were needed.

“Until we had a full scope of the work necessary, we really didn’t have the ability to have a schedule of the necessary repairs,” said Adams. “We now have that, and that’s why we’ve been able to gather people tonight to give that full understanding of what it’s going to take, so we go into school with great confidence.”

Necessary structural work will take top priority.

“They’re going to start with the must-do’s first. They’re going to pay attention to the pieces of their work schedule that they want to address before students return. That will be their focus over the coming weeks,” said Adams. “If there are any cosmetic repairs that go beyond early November, they will address those when there are breaks in the education system schedules.

Michel Comeau of Campbell, Comeau Engineering was at the meeting. He read an executive summary of what repairs needed to be complete.

Comeau, in part, said: “Connection deficiencies were observed at the junction of the top of the block walls and the underside of overhead steel beams in a number of classroom and corridor partitions. The deficiencies include; missing anchors, inverted anchors, anchors with inadequate embedment into the top of the block wall and missing or loose anchor connection nuts.”

The entire summary, and report, can be found in the Oxford Regional Education Centre Interior Masonry Review Report at http://www.ccrce.ca/sites/default/files/Oxford%20Regional%20Education%20Centre%20Interior%20Masonry%20Review%20Report.pdf#overlay-context=school-relocation-information

Rushton thanked Pugwash for accommodating OREC students.

“Thank you to Pugwash for opening their doors and receiving our kids. This hasn’t been easy on them either. They’ve had to change their lives around.”

He says, from what he’s heard, most students have enjoyed attending school in Pugwash.

“They’re having a hard time with the bus trips, but they are enjoying their time in Pugwash,” said Rushton. “For students to say they’re enjoying the school system it must be comfortable for them.”

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