Parkcrest elementary in Brocklehurst is more than a building, it’s a place where artwork adorns classroom doors, teachers amass gifts from students and parents planned to install new playground equipment, where the neighbourhood kids could play.
“It’s a community,” parent Vanessa Gammel said. “It’s a community of families and the school brings us all together.”
Gammel was in her house making dinner Thursday night, when her daughter — a Thompson Rivers University student who attended the school as a kid — ran inside and said there was a fire.
The family lives only a few blocks from the school and Gammel thought it was likely a dumpster or something small. Then, she saw the smoke and realized it was the school. The family got in the car and drove over, watching from the back field as the school they have been connected to for nearly a decade burned.
More than 100 gathered on Thursday night to watch the blaze. Gammel’s three kids have all attended the school, including her son, Hewson, who started Grade 5 there this week.
Today, Gammel went to work, so a friend is babysitting. She is among the hundreds of families scrambling to find alternatives amidst the unexpected situation. Gammel called it “devastating.”
“It’s something that’s been at the centre of my children’s lives for the past nine years. They spent almost every day there,” Gammel said. “The teachers, you get to know them more like friends. Thinking about all of the things I know that they’ve lost really breaks my heart. Some of those teachers have been doing things there for decades.”
Parkcrest parent Danna Bach was also home when the fire broke out. She did not go to the school but instead fielded questions from her boys Marlow and Cooper, in Grade 2 and Grade 5, about safety in their family home.
Fire, for them, had suddenly become very real.
“They’ve done fire drills lots of times, but usually the teachers try to calm anxieties when they do it and let them know, ‘We’ve never had a fire before and we’re doing this just to make sure you stay safe,’” Bach said. “So they think it’s a pretty far-fetched idea, but then when they see something like this happen, it becomes very real.”
Other students may see the fire as an extension to summer vacation. Calling it a “shock,” mother Lisa Enns said her son Alex had just started Grade 2 this week, but didn’t seem bothered that his school is now closed.
“He’s like, ‘Yeah, no school. I guess I’m not going to school anymore,’” she said. “Well, no. They’ll find something else. … He’s like, ‘I don’t really like school. My favourite parts are lunch and recess.’”
But Enns said the school also doubled as a community playground. The PAC, she said, had just purchased new playground equipment, which had yet to be installed.
“I know a lot of people use the playground, even when school’s not in,” she said.
Bach feels for the teachers, one of whom she knows has been at the school for 15 years or longer. She noted the sheer volume of personal property that went up in smoke, from resources to gifts from students.
Parents received emails and phone calls the night of the fire, told to make alternative plans for their children. Bach said she was “overwhelmed” by how many people reached out from within the community offering to help.
“We’re good,” Bach said. “Our community is so amazing and so fast to reach out.”
Her youngest spent Friday with his grandmother, while her oldest attended a day camp at the Kamloops Art Gallery. The gallery opened up 20 free spaces for Parkcrest students, which continues until Sept. 13 and may be extended depending on demand.
KAG school programs co-ordinator Finn Modder said she awoke this morning to all of the spaces filled. However, by the time day camp was ready to begin, several of the parents cancelled, citing the need for their children to stay home to cope. About a dozen kids showed up.
“They’re in really good spirits,” Modder said, noting activities of the day included printmaking and touring of the latest KAG exhibition. “They don’t want to talk about it.”