New school sparks complaints
A Burnaby Central secondary student is so fed up with the new school building, which opened less than two years ago, that he's started a petition to have the complaints discussed at a school board meeting.
Grade 10 student Denny Pai wrote to the NewsLeader and to assistant superintendent and former Central principal Roberto Bombelli about his concerns, and collected close to 100 signatures on a petition over a couple of days last week.
Pai said he decided to take the action after being frustrated with long lineups at school washrooms and finding toilets, faucets and water fountains frequently out of order.
His list of complaints include a lack of garbage cans in classrooms, air conditioning vents blowing cold air during the wintertime, drama and gym equipment being stored in hallways, old science lab equipment that doesn't work, overcrowded hallways and playing fields and a running track that are not yet ready for use.
"I just don't think it's as nice as we thought it would be," Pai said in a phone interview.
The trouble is, Pai didn't bring his concerns to school administrators or the student council first. Central principal Garth Errico first learned of it after the NewsLeader forwarded a copy of the letter to the school district seeking comment.
He's since spoken to Pai about his concerns and explained the avenues available to raise them. He's also spoken to about 10 students whose signatures were on the petition and was disturbed to hear some claim they didn't know what they were signing.
As for the complaints, Errico said they're all part of the growing pains involved in a project as large as a new school.
The building opened to students in September 2011 before the gym was completed, and the adjacent running track being installed by Burnaby city hall is on schedule but likely won't be fully ready for use until next school year, he said, noting some of the work can only happen during dry weather. The playing field should be ready by May or June.
All the washroom fixtures are automatic as a water-saving measure but that's led to vandalism of sensors in faucets in one washroom. Because it's in a more isolated part of the school, the faucets were replaced with the old-fashioned push-button type. And because administrators didn't want students using the toilets without being able to wash their hands, that washroom was closed for a period until the work was completed, Errico said.
The occasional plugged toilet or water fountain that doesn't work are "isolated incidents," he said, noting the fountains, designed to fill personal water bottles are popular with students.
The building actually doesn't have air conditioning but rather a geothermal heating and cooling system that administrators were told would take about a couple years to adjust to their preferences, he said. The cold air being blown into classrooms is actually fresh air from outside, and the system is continually being monitored and tweaked.
Garbage cans are located in hallways along with recycling bins to encourage recycling, instead of students throwing everything into the trash. The move has resulted in a significant reduction in the garbage being sent to the landfill, Errico said.
He agreed equipment is being stored in hallways but only while the school sorts through it all and awaits proper shelving and storage hardware to be installed in designated storage areas.
Pai's complaint about overcrowded hallways is related to his difficulty in getting to his lower-level locker. The old Central didn't have enough lockers, forcing its 1,300 students to share, Errico said. The new Central tries to solve that by providing half-size lockers, stacked on top of each other, to each student, making the issue likely more one of students not being respectful of others.
TVs and video monitors that Pai considers a waste of money are there to display announcements to students and the touch-screen near the front entrance is actually a requirement of the school's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold status, to provide information on the school's energy use and sustainability.
And unlike a brand new school, a replacement school such as Central's doesn't generally come with brand new equipment for science labs, Errico noted. With old equipment brought over from the old building, it's not unusual to have some pieces that don't work.
"Generally, students believe it's a fantastic building," he said, noting he plans to talk to those who signed the petition to discuss their concerns.
Grade 12 student Alesia Dicicco, a co-prime minister on student council, said she's occasionally heard some students' complaints but understood the situation better after talking with school administrators.
The washroom issues also existed at the old school, Dicicco noted, saying it's likely more an issue of the volume of students using them. Anytime there's 700 girls using three washrooms "you're going to have issues."