As Victoria Marchant took her usual stroll through Garibaldi Highlands with the family dog, she noticed a change was taking place at the local elementary school.
The school has been slated since at least 2017 for an upgrade to its entire exterior, Garibaldi Highlands Elementary principal Erin Boisvert told The Chief, after qualifying for funds from the Ministry of Education. The project is expected to continue through fall this year, and help make the school more energy efficient.
Boisvert said members of the current school community —teachers, parents and students — have been kept informed about the upgrades. Next week, a meeting is planned for the school community to hear about impacts such as timelines, scope of the project, disruption to learning and safety during the project.
As part of the upgrades — the change Marchant noticed on Jan. 30 — workers were jackhammering the art tiles students adorned in 1996. Looking on, Marchant told The Chief, was a young student whose mother had painted one of the tiles. While the girl wanted to keep the tile, Marchant explained to her that the glass was cemented onto the building, and would break when removed.
Marchant herself has a personal attachment to the art project. Her two children painted tiles among those being removed from the school. One of Marchant's daughters, Jamie-Lyn, died in 1997.
"I guess I knew in my heart the time would come when they would do that, I just don't know how I feel about it," she told The Chief.
Jamie-Lyn was well known in Squamish, especially when the community raised funds to make the family's home safe for her after she was diagnosed with Mucopolysaccharidosis type III (MPS III), also known as Sanfilippo syndrome.
"If you think it's hard to watch your parent go through it, you ought to see what it's like to watch a baby go through it," Marchant said. "I hold little moments of that — pieces of artwork — in my heart. It's going to be a letting go for the people who have actually done the artwork, but for some, it's going to be a different kind of letting go."
Marchant said her husband called the removal "disrespectful."
"To speak specifically to the tile wall, everyone involved in the project absolutely respects the nostalgia or a project that was done 25 years ago," Boisvert said. "But it's caused us a bit of difficulty in that we've had a number of students cut their hands over the years. The tiles have been slowly breaking down. We did discuss what are the options for saving the tiles, but when the work began, it just became evident that it wasn't going to be able to be salvaged. They're thin glass tiles cemented on plywood."
Marchant added that she and her husband have seen a lot of change in Squamish in the time they've lived here — Marchant since the 1960s and her husband since the 1950s.
"For me, it was special to see that there," Marchant said of Jamie-Lyn's tile, which was decorated with a handprint and a wheelchair. "For 20-something years, I've gone over there and put my hand on top of hers."
It was a ritual of sorts that Marchant said was dear to her.
Marchant noted that many of the school's students likely have parents who contributed to the '96 art project, connecting generations of the school together.
"I kind of wanted them to jackhammer Jamie's. I would have walked home with this great big 50-pound slab of cement if I had to, but when I get home what am I going to do with it?
"Everybody takes losses in a different way," she said. "I think I'm OK about it, but it's just another change that I have to accept."
"I thought I would walk down there and be able to take my grandkids there and say, 'This was your Aunty Jamie and this is your mom's here.' But oh well."
For the current school population, Boisvert said safety has to be the priority.
"They'll be able to hang on to those memories," Boisvert said of those involved with the original art project. "For us, we're ready for an update and a revamp at our school. We're excited and we feel the disappointment from some of our community members and we're sorry that they feel that way, but ... the time has come."
***Correction: Please note this article was updated to show that Jamie-Lyn Marchant was diagnosed with MPS III, not MPS II.