While parents and community leaders are happy with the temporary flushing toilets that have been installed at Parkwood Primary School after a fire last month, they maintain that the 62-year-old school needs to be rebuilt.
Pastor Paul Phillips, chairperson of Voice of Parkwood community organisation, said residents have protested several times begging the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) for a new school building.
“These temporal interventions do not really speak to the original demand as Parkwood Primary deserves a new school facility, which addresses all educational needs of primary school learners,” said Mr Phillips.
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said there were no plans to rebuild the school but an “ongoing maintenance project” was under way.
This project will accommodate the repairs required to the fire damaged ablutions, as well as the professional removal of asbestos debris.
“In response to the fire, we initiated an emergency maintenance project comprising the following scope in order to restore functionality and make-safe: restore water supply – this has been completed, placement of 12 chemical toilets – this has been completed and hoard-off affected area – has been completed.”
Ms Hammond said: “The toilets are a temporary and necessary measure given the damages incurred to the ablution facilities as a result of a fire (on February 9).
However, protests sparked in the community over the temporary chemical toilets and residents demanded these be replaced with flushing ones.
The new toilets were installed last week. Parent Rashaad Allen said he was relieved about this as the previous toilets were not hygienic.
“The workers did a great job working day shift and night shift, the asbestos was removed and a fence was built around the ablution facilities.”
Oscar Samuels, another parent, said: “I was concerned about our kids using the plastic, non-flushing mobile toilets – 724 kids use 12-non flushing toilets a day hence I supported the campaign against it and attended the meeting with the department of education.
“Thank God they recognised their failures and had all burnt damaged asbestos removed but only after it was flagged by the parents and after a week toilets were replaced with temporary containers with 12 flushing toilets. I am very happy and I see this as a victory for our kids and community. Unfortunately it first needs to go to a protest of the community before the right things are done by our government.”
Mr Samuels added: “I’m a bit shocked at the fact that there is no attempt to catch the criminal or criminals responsible for the ‘arson’ on the school. We really are a lawless country.”
Captain Wynita Kleinsmith, spokesperson for Grassy Park Police, said she can confirm that the fire took place at Parkwood Primary but there were “no arrests and no witnesses”.
Mr Samuels said in spite of the new toilets, “the school still needs to be rebuilt”.
Pastor Phillips said a meeting took place on Wednesday March 1, with WCED department and public works infrastructure representatives.
“They reported back to the school governing body, staff and community representatives that Parkwood Primary School is no longer on their priority list for rebuild.
“The reasons: Covid, drought, funds were rescheduled. The school received emergency maintenance. The plastic toilets were removed and replaced with water flushed, sewer connection ablution,” said Pastor Phillips.
A suggestion on the table regarding the building of a new school was to merge Parkwood and Montague’s Gift primary schools.
However Pastor Phillips said: “They advised that the role players, including Montagu’s Gift Primary, engaged, and map out the better way forward in addressing the community’s educational needs.
“Leaders expressed their disapproval, and will meet soon to plan and discuss the community response in addressing this worrisome issue,” said Pastor Phillips.
He said the merging of Parkwood and Montague’s Gift primary schools should be a “unilateral, collective decision based on facts, community dynamics and educational needs of the affected communities. All key roleplayers should be part of such a critical decision-making component. At the same time a realistic approach should be key, for example, the planned greater Retreat housing development, which would bring greater demands on structures and resources.
“The fact is that the department of education responded to complaints and demands from the community, they were engaged on demand and acted because of political and other reasons. They never considered the needs of learners, educators and the community.
“The unrealistic plan to merge the schools, based on attendance (perhaps they should declare the original daily attendance roll), the process defined by us as indefinite, their interim we all know as permanently temporarily interim, is the basis of mistrust, dysfunctional community relations and sceptical approach to any departmental propositions,” said Pastor Phillips.