Volunteers left gutted by pros
It looks like the scene from a post-apocalyptic zombie film.
Clearly, it was once a school: children’s names are scrawled on masking tape above small coat hooks, tiny chairs and desks are stacked in classrooms, and bright red hand-sanitizer dispensers hang at little-tyke level.
But ceiling panels hang precariously from above, and the floors are covered in dust, drywall and other debris.
Doors are missing handles. Paint in primary colours has been thrown carelessly around a classroom. Bathroom sinks are scattered through the wreckage.
These are the remnants of Wednesday’s assault on the old Cowichan Station school.
And it comes just days before the Cowichan Station Area Association was set to move into its new digs, after leasing the site from School District 79.
“Someone had gone in and taken all the plumbing, removed the fixtures and taken all the copper piping from the ceiling,” lamented Madelaine MacLeod, a member of the CSAA.
Anything copper or brass was stripped and taken.
In their place, the thieves left a hammer and a single cigarette butt, crushed on a table-turned-ashtray.
“Everything’s gone — heating fixtures, the oil lines, anything they could take, they took,” MacLeod said.
It’s a grievous blow to the non-profit community group that aims to turn the old school into a hub for Cowichan Station.
A sub-tenant was set to occupy the school’s old annex on Sept. 1; that certainly won’t be happening now.
“This has really thrown us for a loop — we’re looking at three weeks out, if not longer,” MacLeod said of time needed for repairs.
There’s still confusion as to why the building’s security system noted the activity during the thefts, but did not signal an alarm.
“These were professionals,” MacLeod added. “The police said they cased it on Tuesday, for about 15 minutes, and then they were in and out in less than an hour on Wednesday night.”
Cpl. Kevin Day, a spokesman at the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, said police have no suspects at this time, but continue to investigate the crime.
“They knocked sinks off the wall, went into the ceiling and removed pipe through the entire school — the thieves went to great lengths to get what they wanted,” he said.
“They obviously had a goal in mind, knew exactly what they wanted, and how they were going to get it. They had a plan and it’s obvious this is the work of copper-wire thieves who I’m sure are active in the theft of copper wire.”
Now the Cowichan Station site is without heat and water, and will need extensive repairs in several spots.
The group has insurance, but it’s still unclear how much of the damage will be covered.
CSAA estimates the plumbing repairs alone will cost an estimated $20,000.
Copper and brass, the group added, have doubled in price in the past year and now costs more than $2 per pound.
“It’s just such a detrimental blow to a community group that’s worked so hard for so long,” MacLeod said. “We’re dismayed — but we’re moving forward, and we hope we’ll have some volunteers who’ll really knuckle down, both in labour and in donations.”
Donations are eligible for tax receipts. To help, call 250-746-7804 or visit cowichanstation.org.