The last bell of the day rang at Rutherford Elementary on Thursday afternoon, signalling the start of summer break and the end of the school’s more than five decades in the community.
It’s “sad, very sad,” said London Adshead, 10, of the last day at the school. “Just not seeing some kids that are going to the same school as you and not being able to see them again, only like maybe for a few seconds like at a grocery store or something.”
It was the end of the year for Rutherford Elementary students and the last time children would fill classrooms at the north Nanaimo school, which opened in 1965.
Nanaimo school board voted to close Rutherford, due to issues including declining enrolment, three years ago when it faced a $2.7-million structural deficit; a move that hinged on the B.C. Ministry of Education providing funding for expansion of the nearby Frank J. Ney Elementary. Dollars were announced in 2017.
Students, set to be divided between Frank J. Ney, Randerson Ridge and McGirr next September, came together for a farewell assembly on Thursday.
Trustee and zone representative Tania Brzovic said it was very moving, very emotional, there were some tears, but also a lot of good memories and a feeling of people trying to be positive and upbeat and honor retirees and Grade 7 students.
“One of the things I appreciated … they have a tradition where the Grade 7s pass the bench to the Grade 6s and I wasn’t sure they would do that this year. They did it,” she said. “They kept that tradition, that sort of thing that marks the Grade 6s, they are moving up to their last year of elementary school.”
Brzovic, who attended the school throughout her elementary years, called it a sad day and said she has many memories.
“My most fond memory of Rutherford was when I was a student, I actually used to play outdoor hockey,” she said, adding being a kid using a wheelchair, she didn’t play exactly the same way as other kids but nobody made an issue of that. “We were inclusive when I think people didn’t know what that word really meant.”
Students will now be bused to Frank J. Ney, something Brzovic said there’s a lot of relief about, and she said all of the staff have done a good job of introducing children to the schools they’ll be attending. There’s also a committee helping with the transition.
“I think there’s still some frustration when we see all the portables in the north end, people still don’t quite understand why it was felt this was the right decision,” said Brzovic, who later noted that one thing she is proud of is that the board resisted the urge to put the property on the market.
“We held onto it because we do understand there may come a time that we may need it, and it didn’t make sense to sell it given its location and given the dearth of land in the north end,” she said. “While we figure out what’s happening with growth, we just can’t afford to get rid of that land in my opinion.”
There was an effort to make the day as happy as possible for kids, with a free pizza lunch and popsicles, according to Rutherford parent Bozena Lassak, but she said it wasn’t enough.
“Kids felt like this was the last day. They were crying, they were asking why, so we have no answers and it doesn’t make sense,” she said, adding the district is “overflowing with children.”
She said she wants to see more thought put into the kids, rather than politics.
Adshead said some of her best memories are of recess and field trips, like hiking at Westwood Lake. She’s now heading to Frank J. Ney.
Her advice for other Rutherford students?
“Kids that are nervous to go to other schools shouldn’t be, there’s lots of people coming to the same schools as them and they’ll meet new friends,” she said.