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'We will rebuild,' SD43 board chair says after fire levels Hazel Trembath Elementary

PORT COQUITLAM — "Dealing with this event will not be easy for the students, staff, and community of Hazel Trembath, but with support, they will continue to thrive, and they will overcome this loss."

Students of Port Coquitlam's Hazel Trembath Elementary are at home for part of this week while a temporary school in Coquitlam is being set up for their lessons.

The shift to Winslow Centre comes after a fire ripped through their Confederation Drive building early on Saturday, Oct. 14.

The blaze is suspected to have been intentionally set.

Michael Thomas, the chairperson for School District 43's board of education, told the Tri-City News today, Oct. 16, that students will be bussed from a location near Hazel Trembath to Winslow daily, starting Wednesday or Thursday.

"It's really important to us that we keep the students together," he said, noting counselling services will be offered at Winslow to the 215 students.

"We don't want to split up the community."

Today, teachers are at Winslow to convert 10 classrooms for elementary school learning.

They are also in mourning, Thomas said. "The teachers have lost everything. They are rebuilding from scratch."

In a letter to SD43 parents (posted below), superintendent Patricia Gartland said the SD43 Education Foundation has set up an online site to receive financial donations to support the Hazel Trembath school community; tax receipts will be issued.

Another virtual fundraiser — set up by a teacher, mother and resident of Port Coquitlam — generated more than $11,000 over the weekend for the school's Parent Advisory Council.

"As a teacher myself, we spend years accumulating our resources and spending so much time and money to make our classrooms places of rich engagement and learning," Leah Michele wrote on the GoFundMe webpage.

"It is my understanding that most insurance does not cover these items in school fires. I cannot fathom the loss this community will be experiencing and I would love to try and bring some hope."

City Donation Drive

As well, the City of Port Coquitlam has launched a school supplies drive until Oct. 31.

Residents can drop off the following items at the Port Coquitlam Community Centre (2150 Wilson Ave.), at the Hyde Creek Recreation Complex (1379 Laurier Ave.) or at city hall (2580 Shaughnessy St.): 

  • Staplers
  • Clipboards
  • Dry erase markers
  • Poster board
  • Sticky Post-It notes
  • Writing instruments (pencils, highlighters, pens or markers and erasers)
  • Art supplies (construction paper, crayons and glue)
  • Games
  • Notebooks
  • Calculators
  • Lined paper
  • New or gently used books (suitable for primary aged pupils, K-Grade 5)

What is Not Accepted

  • Food or canned goods
  • Gift cards
  • Monetary donations
  • Clothing

Plans for Reconstruction

As for the school, Thomas said SD43 staff have been in contact with B.C.'s Ministry of Education and the City of Port Coquitlam since Saturday to find ways to get the school back up.

"We will rebuild," he said. 

B.C.'s Schools Protection Program is a self-insured program that provides risk management services to all public schools (Kindergarten to Grade 12) in the province.

Thomas said it's too early to say when construction will happen; however, city staff have promised to expedite permits "and offer what they can to support the process."

Thomas thanked first responders, especially Port Coquitlam fire crews, for dousing the flames early Saturday.

On the weekend, the City of Port Coquitlam lit up city hall in the school colours of red and blue as a "message of care, support and hope" to the community, wrote Mayor Brad West, who is an alumnus and whose son is a Grade 1 student at Hazel Trembath Elementary.

Shannon Jijian told the Tri-City News the school loss is devastating.

"Both of our kids went to Hazel," she said, "and, from this, we have made a lot of a special friendships — both parents and kids…. the Hazel Trembath community is tight and will come back stronger from this."

Police Investigation

Meanwhile, Coquitlam RCMP are asking the public not to go near the school due to the potentially hazardous air quality.

"We understand that students, staff, parents and neighbours may want to view the damage first-hand as they grieve the loss of the school," said Cpl. Alexa Hodgins, the detachment’s media relations officer.

"The smoke and air quality is unsafe and only officials with appropriate personal protective equipment should be near the scene."

Sgt. Karrie Ellis of the General Investigation Section is calling for any witnesses to the suspected arson to come forward.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Coquitlam RCMP at 604-945-1550 and quote file number 2023-27725.

Superintendent's message

As you have likely heard, Hazel Trembath Elementary school in Port Coquitlam has been devastated by a fire that started in the early hours of Saturday, October 14. Fortunately, no one was injured but the loss to the community is immeasurable.

The school was named for Hazel Trembath, who began her 42-year teaching career in Port Coquitlam in 1924 when she joined the staff of Central Elementary. Ms Trembath left a legacy of lifelong learning in the community that the current students and staff continue to uphold today. While the loss of their school is very sad, the community has already begun to rally around and support each other through this difficult time. A community meeting for the families of Hazel Trembath was held Saturday evening to allow time to grieve the loss of their school building and support each other in their healing.

District leadership, in cooperation with the principal and staff of Hazel Trembath have been working to enact solutions to support the students since news of the fire broke. The district hopes to keep the learning community of Hazel Trembath together and have a space prepared for them to return to school as quickly as possible. Processes have also been put in place to ensure Hazel Trembath teachers have resources and materials required to continue with lessons and provide stability and continuity for their young students.

The school is extremely appreciative of the outpouring of resource donation offers received.  However, it is important to provide the staff an opportunity to take stock of resources available and identify specific deficiencies prior to accepting further donations to ensure the accumulation of donations does not become an unintended burden.  To this end, the district has assigned staff to oversee the resourcing process in a way that responds directly to classroom needs.  If you are keen to assist further, you are best able to do so by providing a financial donation and may do so through the SD43 Education Foundation by visiting their website at  Donating through the SD43 foundation ensures 100% of contributions support the Hazel Trembath school community.

Dealing with this event will not be easy for the students, staff, and community of Hazel Trembath, but with support, they will continue to thrive, and they will overcome this loss.


Patrica Gartland