A DELIBERATELY set fire and other acts of vandalism have caused more than $80,000 worth of damage at Cassie Hall Elementary so far this year, prompting the Coast Mountains school district to implement extra security measures across the district.
“It’s the most [damage] I’ve seen here,” said Coast Mountains school board chair Art Erasmus of the Aug. 9 arson attack. “And the fact that it’s hit that particular school twice is very unfortunate – we don’t like it.”
In that fire, the arsonist broke one of the windows at the back of the school and threw a match or lighter inside the building into what was a multi-purpose room, said Terrace fire chief John Klie.
“There was no molotov cocktail or anything like that,” he said.
The flame lit a curtain on fire, which then melted. The sprinkler system was activated, containing the fire before the firefighters arrived.
But not before significant damage was done. Smoke and water damage was a big factor, with some of the tiles lifting off the floor.
Damages costs include cleaning, replacement of glazing, flooring, drywall and subfloors, moving costs – students had to be temporarily relocated – as well as replacement costs for destroyed furniture and equipment.
Another $2,000 – $2,500 worth of damage occurred almost two months later, in a fire that started in the tube portion of the school’s new play structure.
This fire was started by a person or persons lighting a piece of clothing on fire and leaving it in the tube, which then melted away.
“It’s vandalism at it’s worst,” said Klie. “Random, not planned…no rhyme or reason.”
Incidents like this are tough to control, said Klie, noting that the perpetrator can be in and out of the scene in a matter of minutes.
It’s not unusual for firefighters to respond to “nuisance” calls involving small grass fires on school fields, but acts like the two big fires at Cassie Hall are abnormal.
He stresses that he does not yet believe this is part of a trend, rather a “blip.”
“The entire community suffers from senseless acts of vandalism like this,” added RCMP Constable Angela Rabut. “The citizens of Terrace have a social responsibility to hold these arsonists accountable for what they did.”
“Our district has been rather fortunate over the past several years,” said Coast Mountains secretary-treasurer Alanna Cameron.
“Incidents of vandalism or arson similar to the one at Cassie Hall have been fairly rare.”
The unusually high amount of vandalism this year has prompted the board to implement extra security measures just in case. Anti-loitering devices are installed across the district and “we have taken steps to protect our facilities and educational dollars – however there are some behaviours that we are simply unable to control,” said Cameron.
Anti-loitering devices include what are called “mosquitos” – devices that emit a directed, high-pitched frequency, or, very annoying noise, to deter people from hanging around the area.
The devices can be programmed so that only people under 25 can hear the sound. Every school district in B.C. has the devices, according to Michael Gibson, president of MovingSound technologies, the company who owns the North American distribution rights to the devices, which cost around $1,100 each.
The school board will have to pay a deductible of approximately $10,000 for the Aug. 9 fire, money that will come out of a surplus account.
In both instances, authorities were alerted to the fires in part because of the school’s neighbours, who fire chief Klie says have been on high-alert.
Police are still investigating the cause of the Aug. 9 fire, said Rabut.
Police will be recommending charges of arson, under Section 434 of the criminal code, be forwarded against two of three young people arrested the night of the playground fire.
The police information is now before provincial Crown counsel lawyers who will make the final decision.
The 14-year-old and the 19-year-old already have court dates set in anticipation that charges will be laid.
An 11-year-old also arrested that night was released and no further action on the part of the police is anticipated. A person has to be at least 12-years-old for charges to be considered.
If the public has any information to assist in these investigations call the Terrace RCMP at 250-638-7400. Information can also be left anonymously thru Crime Stoppers by telephone at 1-800-222-TIPS, online at www.terracecrimestoppers.ca or by texting “TERRACE plus your message” to 274637 (CRIMES).