School vandalism a hard hit to district pocketbook

Labour costs to fix the work of vandals at local schools hit $28,000 in 2012.

Labour costs alone to fix the work of vandals at local schools hit $28,000 in 2012, and police say educating kids about that repair bill might be the best way to reduce it.

Broken windows and graffiti combined for just over half of the 181 work orders created to repair acts of vandalism at facilities throughout the Okanagan Skaha School District last year, according to information presented to school trustees at a committee meeting this week.

“Vandalism is one of those tough things to really control because a lot of it happens on evenings and weekends when no one’s around,” said Doug Gorcak, the district’s facilities director.

Besides the cost for staff to complete the repair work, the district is also on the hook for materials, the value of which Gorcak didn’t have available, but estimated to be about equal to the cost of labour. He added that the district’s $10,000 insurance deductible means it’s cheaper to just absorb the repair cost in most cases.

Penticton Secondary School recorded 23 acts of vandalism last year, making it the most victimized facility in the district.

Superintendent Wendy Hyer said the school’s downtown location means it’s more prone to mischief than other facilities set in residential areas.

She added that the district is “diligent” about cleaning up vandals’ work.

“If you leave vandalism (unfixed), it tends to promote additional vandalism,” Hyer said.

After Penticton Secondary, the next highest number of vandalism work orders was recorded at McNicoll Park Middle (20), followed by Summerland Secondary (16) and Parkway Elementary (15).

Gorcak said he’s monitoring the “hot spots” and is considering installing roll shutters over windows at those sites.

The shutters are already in place along the back side of McNicoll Park, but it still suffered broken windows 11 times last year.

There are also security cameras installed at 12 schools throughout the district to help ward off trouble, but they act more as a deterrent than a means by which to identify vandals, Gorcak said.

Penticton RCMP spokesman Sgt. Rick Dellebuur said police have a tough time bringing vandals to justice even with video recordings of them at work.

“The problem with any mischief, graffiti, any of that type of damage is you almost have to catch them in the act,” he said.

“Cameras would help if we get a good, clear image of an individual doing it, but in this day and age of everybody wearing hoodies, it’s taxing for us,” Dellebuur continued.

“Sometimes we have luck because someone recognizes a hoody (the suspect) has got on or something, but it’s certainly not as easy as some people think.”

Dellebuur suggested the school district tell students  how much vandalism costs to fix and what things, like sports equipment  or musical instruments, it must forego in order to pay for repairs.

“I still think probably our best defence against this is educating the kids and educating what this costs them,” he said.

On the bright side, the district’s vandalism repair bill has decreased significantly from 2009, when the labour cost reached $75,000.

Dellebuur said certain groups of trouble-making students may have moved on and that could explain the decline.

But Trustee Walter Huebert suggested an improved sense of community spirit may have also helped.

“I’d like to think that the community culture and the school culture has changed,” he said, “and as a result there’s a lot less vandalism.”

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