Fearing for their children’s safety, parents of Sunnyside Primary School pupils want a new building to replace the 66-year-old “plankie” school, but the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is only planning to rebuild it in 2022.
Sunnyside’s school governing body (SGB) held an urgent parent meeting, on Tuesday June 13, to discuss concerns around safety at the school. The meeting followed damages caused by a severe storm that had hit Cape Town on Wednesday June 7 (“Storm hammers Sunnnyside school,” Athlone News, June 14.)
The entire administration block’s roof blew off and in the process electrical equipment and computers were damaged. Five classrooms were also left with electrical damage and water leakages, and the staff’s ablution facilities were severely damaged as well.
At the meeting, parents expressed their unhappiness over the repairs being done while their children were at school. They feared their children might touch a live electrical wire, as children are curious by nature.
Parent Iloma de Bruyn asked for more mobile units to be made available while the school is being repaired.
Ms De Bruyn said: “My child is in Grade 1. The light fittings in their classroom are hanging loose. The ceiling boards are wet. Why can’t the department bring more mobile units?
“The school has a massive field. It can be placed there. My daughter asked me to buy candles for everybody in her class because they cannot see in class without electricity.
“What if a freak storm should happen again without our knowledge? All of that put our children in danger,” Ms De Bruyn said.
Another parent, who did not want to be named, said the condition of the school, was like a “death trap” for her child.
The parents challenged Junaid Daries, the Metro Central Education District’s institutional management and governance manager, on the alleged lack of a safety compliance certificate, which they demanded be issued. Some also said they would keep their children at home until the school was deemed safe and was stated so in “black and white”.
However, acting principal Nathaniel Brache said it would not be possible to postpone the examinations any further, as the school would not be able to catch up with the rest of the year’s curriculum.
Parent Gregory Sirmongpong asked Mr Daries if he would allow his children to go into a building which was not safe. “Did the WCED wilfully and knowingly let our children into a building that is not safe? If that was your child, would you allow your child onto the school premises as it is now?” Mr Sirmongpong asked.
Paddy Attwell, the WCED spokesman, admitted that repairs were being done at the school while the children were there but stated that a safety compliance certificate had been issued.
Mr Attwell said contractors had removed rubble and dangerous materials from the site and that electricians had restored the electricity supply.
He added: “An electrical engineer has confirmed the electrical system is now safe. The damaged administration block will probably have to be replaced. Contractors started installing four mobile classrooms at the school on Thursday June 15 to serve as administration buildings. Contractors are also installing a mobile toilet unit for the staff.
“Meanwhile, clean-up operations are under way at all schools damaged by the storm last week. A total of 171 schools, including Sunnyside, have reported damage across the province, including damage to seven hostels. The storm also damaged two of our district offices.”
When asked about the possibility of rebuilding the school earlier than 2022, Mr Attwell said this would not be possible. “The WCED has identified 113 schools that we have to replace over a 10-year period. They include Sunnyside Primary. According to the schedule, planning will start on Sunnyside during the 2019/20 financial year.
“The aim of the school replacement programme is to replace schools built using inappropriate materials, including old ‘plankie skole’. The pace at which we implement the programme is subject to available funding, among other criteria. Sunnyside is already high on the list for replacement. We also have to consider all the schools on the list, in line with policy.
The WCED plans to complete 20 replacement schools and 13 new schools during the period 2017 to 2019. The department has also identified 499 schools in 2014 that need upgrading,” said Mr Attwell.
“We are currently implementing a programme to do so in stages over several years. At the same time, the department and the Department of Transport and Public Works are implementing a major programme to repair schools damaged in the storm.”
Parent Riedewaan Cornelius said parents were understandably frustrated, adding that because Mr Brache and Mr Daries could not answer all the parents’ questions, he suggested they meet with “decision-makers” within the WCED.
In response to this, Mr Attwell said his department’s senior officials responsible for infrastructure planning “are more than happy to liaise with those concerned, and have already been doing so”.