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Health doc blows whistle on schools' air Ministry reps to sort school projects By Chris Woodall While the medical health officer blows the whistle on Howe Sound elementary schools' bad air, school board trustees and execs got the education ministry to send field reps to find out what the fuss is about. Howe Sound district school board has for years placed Pemberton's Signal Hill Elementary School near the top of the priority list for funding projects. Bad air in that dilapidated school is one of the major concerns. Yet the B.C. Ministry of Education's idea of a capital funding priority is no where close to what the school board had in mind. The school board took advantage of a trustees association conference in Victoria last weekend for a meeting, May 2, with senior education ministry officials to shed a little light on the confusion. Deputy minister Don Avison (the senior ranking ministry bureaucrat) and staff of the ministry's facilities branch talked for an hour with school board superintendent Mike Fitzpatrick, secretary treasurer Nancy Edwards, school board vice-chair Amy Shoup and chairperson Judy Bourhis. "They understand our situation," says Bourhis of ministry officials at the meeting. "But the ministry advised that the limited funding for this year meant that their approval of projects in other districts with a higher priority — when applying the ministry's criteria — did not allow our top two projects to proceed." The first Howe Sound priority is for an addition to Brackendale Junior Secondary School. Replacing Signal Hill is second. The ministry provided funding for an addition to Garibaldi Highlands elementary and to replace roof membranes for various district schools. The Ministry people say they will work with the district to keep the planning approval processes on track. "Next spring when the ministry announces the capital envelope for the year, the project could go into the construction phase with the approval of the ministry at that time," Bourhis says. As for Pemberton's elementary school children, the ministry is sending field representatives to work with the school board to see if juggling students between Signal Hill and Pemberton Secondary School will decrease over-all class sizes. "The board is optimistic that with Grade 7s attending Pemberton Secondary next year, the overcrowding of Signal Hill Elementary can be addressed," Bourhis says. Meanwhile, an investigation by the Coast Garibaldi Community Health Service Society found that four district elementary schools have "poor indoor air quality." The investigation was a joint effort with the Howe Sound school district. The schools — Signal Hill, Mamquam, Stawamus, and Squamish Elementary — have problems with moisture accumulation and inadequate ventilation, says a press release from medical health officer Dr. Paul Martiquet. "This reveals deficiencies in two of three fundamentals to good air quality: keep it dry and keep it well ventilated," says the bulletin. There is no indication the schools had a problem with the third fundamental: "keep it clean." The inspections took bio-aerosol samples. All four schools on the list had "higher than acceptable levels of moulds." There has so far been no links to bad air and health problems among students, Martiquet says, but that doesn't mean the levels found are okay. A final report from Martiquet is to be ready by today, May 8, the press release says. Findings in the final report will include input from parent advisory committees of the four schools. Just sending Grade 7s out of the overcrowded Signal Hill is thought to be a partial solution to bad air quality. "This should have a positive impact on air quality in the school," Bourhis says.