WENTWORTH – Members of a Wentworth Alcoholics Anonymous group were surprised to find the locks changed when they attempted to attend their weekly meeting at the community’s elementary school last Sunday.
“The key would not open the door, the locks had all been changed and for the first time in 20 years they were denied access to the building,” community school council member Laurel Adams said Tuesday.
Adams said AA had meetings at the elementary school as part of the Wentworth Community School Program that has used the building after hours for more than 30 years.
She said the council had been notified that there was to be no activities in the school during July because cleaning was taking place, but the AA group showed up on Sunday to collect their materials and supplies and move them to what they thought would be a temporary location at the Wentworth United Church.
“Meanwhile, in its wisdom the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board had decided that a community presence in the school building was a threat to the safety and security of students and staff at the school,” Adams said, adding that was the wording of a letter from the board to the community school council.
Adams said the board told the council it wanted to confiscate its keys and that the locks and security codes at the school would be changed.
“Volunteers for the council were not informed when the work was to take place or contacted and given time to remove their belongings,” she said.
Adams said the school has been an important site for community meetings and activities since it first opened in 1959. She said a community presence in the school was never an issue before and she can’t understand how it would present a risk to students and staff.
She said the AA group will continue to meet in the church basement without its supporting materials.
Wentworth Elementary is one of three schools the board has targeted for closure because of declining enrolment. The board has delayed its closure decision until next March to give people in the three communities to study the hub school concept and come up with proposals for shared use of school facilities.
Boards spokeswoman Debbie Buott-Matheson said the community will still have access to the building during the school year, but will have to use the newer community use agreement.
“The council was sent a letter in June letting them know in a short period of time that the locks were going to be changed,” Buott-Matheson said. “They were operating under an agreement they signed in 1999 that was outside our use of school facilities policy. The last several years there have been some issues with a lot of keys being out in the community and a lot of people having security code access and people going in and using the facility and not telling the principal.”
Buott-Matheson said the move was never made to shut the community out of the school, but was meant to get the situation under control and put the facility use agreement in place.
“If anyone wants to use the school they go to the principal and fill out a facility use permit and the principal and the family of schools supervisor will decide if it’s something that’s appropriate,” she said. “The situation with AA is unfortunate and it’s certainly not something we wanted to happen. We did let the council know at the end of June that there wouldn’t be any access for the summer because they were stripping the floors. The plan was to talk to them about the facility use agreement in September.”
She said the council should have informed community users that the building would not be available. She said an operations foreman will be in contact with a council member to set a date for AA to get its materials from the school.