‘Nightmare’ School that Became a Gang Hangout is Torn Down

  • 09/16/16
  • |          Kitchener

KITCHENER — Neighbours are pleased the Catholic school board is demolishing a vacant school plagued by vandals.

St. Patrick Catholic Elementary School closed in 2010 and decayed so badly that Betty Ziffle could smell the mould and see water pooling inside where ceilings had collapsed.

She tired of calling police about gangs loitering outside or breaking into the building. She found drug pipes scattered on the grounds and is sure she found a marijuana baggie.

“It was awful, the hangouts, the vandals. It was just horrible,” she said. “It was a nightmare. They were prying the doors open. They would break all the lights on the outside so they could hang out there without anybody seeing them.”

“There were vandals at night,” Pierre Coutu said. “We were worried about fire. We’re not going to miss it.”

“Some people at night would hang out by the cross,” Ben Powers said. He saw the vacant building tagged with graffiti. “That’s what happens when it gets abandoned,” he said.

Powers attended St. Patrick through Grade 8. He remembers just 15 kids in his final class. From across the street he has watched his childhood school fall into ruin. “It’s kind of depressing,” he said.

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board still owns the property bordering River Road in east Kitchener. The school was built in 1968.

“Issues with vandalism were common and costly,” said Shesh Maharaj, school board treasurer. The vacant school became a liability as it deteriorated, he said.

The site’s future is uncertain. A year ago the school board had a home builder lined up to buy the property. The deal fell through when City of Kitchener planners balked at a proposal to build four semi-detached dwellings around the edge.

City planners reported that “the lands are intended for redevelopment and staff would prefer to consider the redevelopment of these lands in a more comprehensive manner.”

“There are no active sale agreements,” Maharaj said. The school board will keep the site for the short term and then may offer it for sale again through public bidding.

“We do not have any other current plans for this site,” said Juliane von Westerholt, a planner with the City of Kitchener.

Neighbours might like to see homes built there but not an apartment tower. Current zoning allows for lowrise housing.

Ziffle said she warned youths to stay away, concerned for their safety. “I was warning all the kids that were hanging out there: ‘Please, don’t go in, it’s toxic.'”

Recently she watched three men break into the building and then emerge minutes later. She once told a security guard that someone had broken in and suddenly the trespasser appeared on the roof, looking down at the guard.

“You could look in through the doors and you could see water on the floors in the hallways, and the ceiling falling down on the floor,” she said. “It was a mess. The bricks were falling off of it.”

St. Patrick was half-empty when trustees closed it. It was closed along with another school and the students were redistributed in part to support the opening of Saint John Paul II. St. Patrick students moved to St. Daniel Catholic Elementary School.

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