It may not be as recognizable as the Trapp block or the old train station, but the adult continuing education building at the bottom of 10th and Columbia streets has become an institution in its own right in the community.
The New Westminster School District leased the building at 1001 Columbia St. for 25 years. A diverse number of programs worked out of that space, along with district staff. But now the district has its own office just below the new middle school on Queens Avenue at Eighth Street, which means the programs that called 1001 Columbia St. home for decades have moved.
Among those programs is the POWER alternative secondary school. POWER is a specialized program for students 16 to 18 years old whose circumstances require a more flexible learning environment. As Jim Russell, head teacher for the POWER program, puts it, his students are the most vulnerable and the most in need of stability.
Originally Russell’s program was supposed to move to a portable on the high school site but that wasn’t ideal because it would mean moving out of a neighbourhood it had been part of for more than two decades. Plus, POWER students don’t follow a typical high school calendar and are in school until July 20,
“We were wanting to still be near transit and SkyTrain, near the various mental health and ministry services that Columbia Square already has. So it’s just in the last two months that we’ve known we’re going to stay in the mall,” Russell told the Record.
“It’s definitely chaotic,” he added.
The new location at 1065 Columbia St. isn’t far from POWER’s longtime home, it’s in a second floor office space in the north east corner of Columbia Square, but Russell is concerned the move will cause some confusion for the students. To pre-empt any problems, he’s hoping to spread the word that current students and any prospective students don’t have far to go to find the new location.
“There’s definite concern about the impact this has on our population. We know that anytime a program, a store, any facility moves their customer base, their student base drops – so we’re concerned about that. We’re concerned about whether the students will follow us,” Russell said, adding he’s worried how the move will affect those students who are about to graduate in July.
But Russell will have to wait and see how the move affects students in the program. The teens were officially welcomed to the new location, which is also the virtual school program’s new home, today (Friday) and are expected to start classes in the new space on Monday.
“We’re still here,” Russell said. “We’re going to keep the quality and the amount of our programming up to the level we have – we’re going to do everything we can within our ability, at least the staff, to do that.”