Ancaster’s Rousseau school rebounds from suspected arson fire

The principal at Ancaster’s Rousseau Elementary School says he’s “incredibly grateful” for the community’s response to a suspected arson on Jan. 3 that destroyed an outdoor shed used to store toys, tricycles and learning materials for kindergarten students.

John Gris said parents — and even some students — have offered to help replace the estimated $10,000 in losses, which also included a small kitchen and adjoining lean-to shelter, which supported year-round outdoor education.

He said he will work with Rousseau’s school council to replenish the items as soon as possible, a process that must follow school board policies, including on fundraising, while giving people the opportunity to donate if they wish.

“I’m ultimately responsible for making sure that the items we use here are safe for the kids,” he said. “We’re incredibly grateful when people want to donate things, we just want to make sure they’re appropriate to use, that’s all.”

Gris said he and staff were initially concerned how students would react to the incident, but they took it in stride and continue their daily outdoor play and education in another area.

“Right away they were like, ‘Well, Mr. Gris, do you need me to talk to my dad about building a shed?’ — these are kindergarten students — ‘Do you need me to bring in any of my toys?'” he said.

“It helps when you’re facing things like this. Kids really pick you up.”

Hamilton police and firefighters were called to the McNiven Road school shortly after 4 p.m. on Jan. 3.

Police spokesperson Jackie Penman said a witness reported seeing three young teens loitering in the area prior to the blaze and the case has been assigned to an arson investigator.

School board spokesperson Shawn McKillop said the fire loss isn’t covered by the board’s insurance policy because it’s below the deductible payment threshold.