Parents pack consultation meeting on Rutherford school closure

NANAIMO – Attendees at the Rutherford school consultation expressed concern about catchment and longer walking distance.

With Rutherford Elementary School facing closure as part of Nanaimo school district’s facilities plan update, stakeholders packed the gym for consultation Thursday night.

One of the topics at the meeting, which was attended by 316 people, was the school’s proximity to students’ homes. If shuttered in 2017, some students would relocate to Frank J. Ney Elementary School.

Approximately three kilometres separate the two schools.

While walking is good, Chris Cake, grandmother of a Frank Ney student, said it’s not safe to walk down Hammond Bay Road, situated along the way to the schools.

“Kids gain independence by learning to walk responsibly to school. It’s a [bad] road in the winter. It’s too far and too long for small children … it’d be just one big traffic jam, more driving kids places, as opposed to doing the healthy thing and walking.”

Keoni Kerr, a Rutherford Grade 7 student, said longer distances will have a negative impact.

“That’s not acceptable. You expect a Grade 2 to walk 45 minutes to school, get to school and do well in school? They’re not going to have any energy. They’re going to be tired,” said Kerr.

Another topic was the school’s smaller catchment area, compared to others.

“It’s a farce, it really is … I liken it to political parties that re-do their electoral area to make it in their favour,” said Cake.

Steve Rae, school district chairman, said catchment is difficult.

“We have Frank Ney that is 55, 60 per cent full. Do we make the catchment area smaller for that school and fill this one? That’s a tough one.

“I understand the catchment area is small, but there are newer schools, newer facilities, enhanced facilities that surround this school,” he said.

Tina Bray, Rutherford Open and Thriving advocacy group spokeswoman, expressed displeasure with the format.

“They asked questions they knew what the answers were going to be. Of course the answers were going to be what they were. People were going to say they supported their community … they limited the conversation to the point that was all they could hear,” said Bray.

Rae was pleased with the format.

“It [gave] everybody at every table an opportunity to speak and share their views and come together and present it to all … we’re here to find out what’s important to people and I think the process has been excellent,” said Rae.

The next consultation meeting is Oct. 13 at Frank J. Ney school.