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Posted: 2/1/2001 3:49:26 PM EDT

Thursday, February 1, 2001

Last shot for firing range

Board shuts school facility

By TOM VAN DUSEN, Ottawa Sun

SMITHS FALLS --  Post-Columbine jitters, lead contamination fears,
insurance concerns and lack of cash have shut down what's believed to be
Eastern Ontario's only high school shooting range.

Suggesting senior students and adult gun club members using firearms in
Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute (SFDCI) left the wrong
impression, Gino Giannandrea, director of education for the Upper Canada
District School Board, told the Sun he took the decision to close the
range in consultation with principal Steve McLean.

The decision follows a recommendation by the Ontario School Boards
Insurance Exchange to remove the facility. In addition, there was no place
in the new curriculum for a shooting safety course.

"Officials with other boards whom I met at meetings thought it was pretty
unusual for us to have a firing range in this day and age," Giannandrea
said, adding it would be possible for an armed stranger posing as a gun
club member to walk into the school.

The director said fear of an incident like the April 1999 shootings at
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., after which fingers of blame
could be pointed at the firing range, also factored into the decision.

But shooting range founder and instructor Pat Quinn, a retired SFDCI
teacher, blasted the decision as "political and ludicrous," considering
many people in rural areas take up hunting at an early age.

"This isn't downtown Toronto. As with so many other social and safety
issues, the solution is education," said Quinn, president of the Smiths
Falls and District Handgun Club, adding there has never been an accident
of any kind at the range in 15 years of operation.

Guns used to instruct up to 18 students per course -- half of which were
female -- were .22-calibre rifles kept at the school in a locked cage,
with ammunition kept separately in a safe.

Quinn said local parents supported the range and the shooting safety
course. The matter will be raised by the parent-dominated school council
during its regular meeting at the school Monday night, beginning at 7,
said chairwoman Peggy Fletcher.

Local board trustee David Schoular said the director and the principal
jumped the gun in taking a decision that should rightly be left to elected
officials in consultation with parents.

"A vote by trustees allowed the firing range in 1984 and a vote by
trustees should decide its fate," Schoular said, adding he'll go to bat
for the range if that's the mood of parents. He said chemistry class
experiments can be as hazardous for students as a gun safety course.


Giannandrea explained the range was out of use during the past year due to
concern in the wake of air flow testing which showed high concentrations
of lead.

However, the school board's health and safety officer, Larry Sparks, said
two cleanups undertaken in recent months have corrected the problem. The
old ventilation system, rubber matting and beams have been removed and the
range has been pressure washed twice. Estimates for new ventilation range
from $50,000 to $200,000.

Closing the range was one of McLean's last official decisions at the
school. In what the director called a routine transfer, the principal has
been moved, to be replaced within days by Debra Thomlins
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