Principal declares first day a success, though not one without challenges
BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
The school formerly known as E.W. Farr Memorial Public School, formerly known as Fenwick Public School S.S 9, opened for the first day of classes last week with its new, controversial name, Wellington Heights.
Some 280 students streamed in on Tuesday morning, their first-day-of-school sadness-excitement seemingly augmented by the new building. Principal Mark Leduc said that students were eager to explore.
“The kids came in this morning all excited, wanting a tour of the whole school,” he said.
While E.W. Farr’s original hallway was incorporated in to the new structure, it can be distinguished, at least on the inside, only by its faded floor. Leduc touted the new technology in Wellington Heights’ new classrooms, saying that he was happy to see students proud of their school and was confident that this would translate into an excellent learning environment.
The school’s staff echoed Leduc, though, perhaps, with some lingering nostalgia. Sherry Corbeil, the French teacher, taught at Pelham Centre for 19 years before moving this year. It was sad to leave the old building, she conceded, though seeing her new classroom and all included in it quickly boosted her spirits. Brook Teal, another veteran of Pelham Centre, expressed similar sentiments. Teal was particularly enthused by the view from his new window—out on to Wellington Heights’ back field, still pristine with fenced-in freshly-lain sod. For over a decade, the view from Teal’s former classroom was a brick wall. “‘The monotonous wall,’ I used to have students call it,” Teal said.
The field that Teal’s room faces is smaller than a regulation soccer field, and, despite all the loads of dirt dumped before the sod was laid, is still far from flat. Additions to the existing E.W. Farr structure meant that the previous soccer field has been built over. During construction, hundreds of loads of dirt were dumped in the back field, previously characterized by a deep gulley. The sod recently planted on top of this still-uneven ground is fenced off and it will be at least six weeks before students can play on it. Further, the school’s gym remains unfinished, though Leduc said that if the inter-school sport season begins before construction is completed, the gym at the old Pelham Centre is available for use.
“We’ll make it work,” he said, referring to the gym, the field, and the unfinished library, among other things.
Leduc had been presented with another surprise on Wellington Heights’ first day of operation. A drainage pond on the south side of the school was full with several feet of water by Tuesday afternoon. Leduc said that he had initially been concerned by the planned presence of such a pond, but had been assured that the sandy soil in Fenwick would drain immediately. Upon seeing the quantity of water on Tuesday morning, he contacted the superintendent, and said that the DSBN planned to install a fence around the area immediately. By Thursday, it had been done, though not in a manner judged entirely safe by some parents.
“I’m surprised and disappointed the Board wouldn’t automatically fence off the storm water reservoir,” said one parent who declined to be named. “It’s obviously created to hold water and it is simply common sense to fence it. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Said another parent, “It’s a danger that a school shouldn’t have,” noting that balls still go under the temporary barrier and that her child has to beyond it to retrieve them.
The DSBN is likely hoping that things eventually will go smoothly at the new school. While the decision in early 2016 to close Pelham Centre and merge the school with E.W. Farr was relatively uncontroversial, things quickly changed when the name “Wellington Heights” was announced.
Opponents of the name even took to running a float in the Canada Day parade this year to publicize their cause. And then, earlier this year, the DSBN petitioned the Town for permission to use a portion of Cherry Ridge Park to make up for the soccer field’s absence. Residents of Cherry Ridge Estates, the subdivision that borders the school, many still angered that the DSBN was intent on calling the school Wellington Heights despite their objections, successfully lobbied the Town to reject the request.
Over the past year it has become clear—perhaps painfully so for the DSBN—just how important the local school is for Fenwick residents. Councillor Richard Rybiak said this spring that he had received more feedback over this issue than regarding the new Community Centre.
The age of the school site surely has something to do with this passion. The first public school in Fenwick was built in 1844 on land leased for five shillings. Thirty years later, it was replaced with a more permanent brick structure, and in 1910 two more rooms were added. In 1904, Edgar Walter Farr became principal of the school, a position that he kept until 1938. E.W. Farr, as his name was later abbreviated, was, among other things, the president of the Temperance and Moral Reform League of Pelham. In 1950, the single-halled building now incorporated into the new structure was opened.
Despite all of the controversy, despite the pond, despite the gym and field, despite the bits of Tyvek wrap still visible his office window, Leduc was in good spirits on Tuesday afternoon. Two boys who had deliberately missed their buses so that they could walk home—even though they had forgotten their permission slips to do so—were in the office being castigated by the secretary and a teacher for their impudence. As Leduc left his office he addressed them gravely.
“Gentlemen,” he said to the teary-eyed boys, who looked to be in Grade Three. “You have buses. The expectation is that you’ll be on those buses. It’s for safety—we need a note if you’re going to walk, all right?”
The two nodded solemnly. Leduc smiled at them and continued on.
“Ah, kindergarteners!” he said, as he entered the foyer. Parents were streaming in to the building, in some cases pulling behind them their anxious tots, in others trying to keep up as the not-so-anxious ones raced ahead and had to be called back before they were lost to the new school.