Cleaning up after the Schoolhouse Squat will be costly for a school district that could have used the money elsewhere.
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools has had a chance to assess the damage to Rutherford Elementary School after squatters from Alliance Against Displacement and Discontent City broke in on Friday before being arrested Saturday.
Steve Rae, school board chairman, said he was “absolutely mortified” with what he saw inside the school.
“They destroyed all the doors downstairs on the first level and barricaded them. They had put holes in the roof to hang their banners in the flashing and that’s a big concern because it’s rainy season; we’re going to have to repair that quickly,” he said.
Rae said it appeared the squatters “were planning on being there for the long haul” with a kitchen set up, cases of pasta, peanut butter, fruit, coffee, as well as “cases of unused needles,” other drug paraphernalia and naloxone kits. A machete and knives were also found.
Rae said he believes $100,000 is a conservative estimate of the damage, as the district will need to repair doors and the roof and says it will hire a hazmat team and additional security at schools.
“All of this is a cost and all of this is taking away from where it was designed, where taxpayers expect we spend it, and that’s on the education of our kids and that’s the real crime here,” Rae said. “Of course we’re empathetic toward the people who are struggling with homelessness and addictions, but this is not the way to go about it.”
Laura Riach of Alliance Against Displacement said it was the RCMP who broke down the doors and said she didn’t witness anyone inside ripping children’s artwork off the walls.
“On a simple, logical level, if we were trying to convert a building into a home for 300 people, why would we destroy the inside of it?” she asked.
Isabel Krupp, also from Alliance Against Displacement, said squatters didn’t do damage to the building because it was intended to be a home.
“We were there to take care of it and to put that building to use after it was abandoned by the government, by the state,” she said.
Amber McGrath, Discontent City supporter, said yesterday she didn’t know yet if tent city residents and supporters would attempt to squat at another school or empty building.
A press release from Alliance Against Displacement announcing the Schoolhouse Squat noted that “judges have found that governments have an obligation to the public good that private landowners do not. Homeless people have stopped government injunction applications by successfully claiming that public property owners have a special responsibility to the public good.”
RCMP arrested 26 squatters for break-and-enter and mischief on Saturday at Rutherford school.