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Schools look to community to snuff out vandalism

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Despite the heat, vandalism has proven to be a cold reality check for city schools in Winnipeg’s inner city and the suburbs.


Now, as activity at the learning institutions winds down for the summer, the Manitoba School Boards Association is turning to the community for a solution to what it is calling a community problem.


The organization has hired the Commissionaires security company, and have launched a tip line (231-4556) for residents to use to report suspicious activity and acts of vandalism around neighbourhood schools.


"I’m really concerned that (vandalism) may increase this summer," said MSBA risk manager Keith Thomas.


"It just seems it’s been growing for the last few summers and I see no reason it won’t lessen unless we make an effort here."


The Commissionaires will patrol all schools across the six city school divisions, Thomas said.


Vandalism can deplete school coffers by as much as $1.5 million in a slow year. A busy year with a string of arsons could cost schools between $8 and $10 million, he said.


"I talked to our patrol people and they said last weekend was one of the worst they’d seen," Thomas said.


"There were between 20 and 30 schools they had to keep going back to. They might make their first patrol at 10, find some kids drinking and doing drugs, ask them to leave, and come back an hour later and they were back again."


Schools are becoming more of a late night hangout for kids, he said, a problem getting worse around suburban schools.


That’s the case at Bruce Middle School in St. James, where administrators are still cleaning up after a vandal, or a gang of vandals, climbed the school’s roof and damaged the stacks of the school’s ventilation system. Police also confirmed several panes of class were smashed, although the perpetrators did not gain access to the school.


Bruce principal Walt Lipinski said students and neighbours were upset by the incident.


"We work hard to have kids respect the neighbours and the neighbours give back to us by keeping an eye on the school," he said.


Vandalism costs the St. James School Division between a few thousand dollars and tens of thousands each year, division superintendent Ron Weston said.


Weston said vandalism is weather-dependent and that video surveillance has been successful in catching vandals in the past, including a group of students at one school who tried to break the cameras but did not masking their faces.


Much of the vandalism — from broken windows to graffiti tags on buildings and playgrounds — occurs on the weekend and is quickly repaired.


"The thing is the community probably doesn’t notice it as much. Kids will come back to school and not know it’s even happened," he said, noting most vandalism occurs at middle schools.


 At King Edward Elementary School on Selkirk Avenue in the North End, principal Spencer Clements is still chipping away at his school’s goal of raising $100,000 to help rebuild a new play structure vandals chose to destroy in May.


"We talk to the kids about this being the community’s property. It doesn’t belong to me or the school," he said.


"They are confused when their structure is gone because some older youth have been destructive with it."


Vandalism cost the Winnipeg School Division $99,000 in damages last year — $117,000 in 2010-11, and $144,000 in 2009-10.


Broken windows and graffiti removal accounted for the two highest costs.


Schools are a neighbourhood asset, often open six days and five nights a week, he said.


"We really have to get out of this thinking of schools just being used from nine to five," Clements said.


"It’s not just the school’s responsibility, it’s a community responsibility. We all have to take ownership on it, that’s how we’re going to take care of our assets," he said, noting vandalism at the school is rare and that neighbours have called to alert the school about suspicious activity in the past.


 Winnipeg police are demanding a call to action.


"We’re either asking for the public’s assistance or quite simply creating an awareness on a variety of issues going on throughout the city (every day)," Const. Jason Michalyshen said.


"All members of the community need to take a part."


To report an act of school vandalism, call 231-4556.

matt.preprost@canstarnews.com

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