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Posted: 2/1/2001 3:49:26 PM EDT
http://www.canoe.ca/OttawaNews/OS.OS-02-02-0014.html 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. HIGH LEAD LEVELS 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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