School health clean-up to proceed By Andy Stonehouse The first phase in a plan to clean up potential health hazards at four district elementary schools has been given the green light, although funding will still have to be arranged over the summer. Rick Hume, school board operations manager, said education ministry staff visited the area last Friday and offered their support for a $500,000 program to replace decaying classroom rugs with vinyl flooring and help waterproof spaces beneath the rooms. Officials were only able to offer support in principle for acquiring emergency funding to complete the work, but Hume said the district will likely initiate the project and hope to finalize financing over the summer. "I'm a bit of a gambler, so I'll go ahead with the plans," Hume said, adding that he believes the Ministry of Finance will eventually kick in the cash. Hume said the plans call for replacing carpets in the hallways and classrooms at Signal Hill, Mamquam, Squamish and Stawamus elementary schools, as well as pouring new concrete floors in crawl spaces underneath the schools. The concrete will help keep water from pooling beneath the schools and adding to the indoor moisture. Teachers and students at the schools have long complained that heat and air circulation has been inadequate for the area's often snowy and rainy conditions, leading to mouldy carpets and unpleasant classrooms. There have also been frequent complaints of allergies, possibly triggered by damp and dank flooring. An investigation by the Coast Garibaldi Community Health Services Society this spring found all four schools have problems with moisture accumulation and ventilation and all had "higher than acceptable levels of moulds." "The carpet was a less expensive choice at some point, but the kids spend all day in there, and they're eating in the rooms. The carpets are cleaned but they stay damp, and that's what the bugs are living on," Hume said. Air quality consultants from the Education Ministry visited the schools on June 2. Laboratory tests conducted on carpet samples showed that they were a breeding ground for bacteria. Hume said the district would eventually like to replace the schools' heating plants with new boilers and upgraded electrical systems, but that will have to come with long-term capital budget requests. "We want to be able to control the source of the problems. They could throw all kinds of money at doing the work, but the problems won't go away." Hume said the uncertainty in funding has meant a delay in beginning the renovations, possibly until the beginning of the new school year. "It's going to be incredibly tight. We've still got to go out to tender for the project, and then we have to get the existing carpet out. It's not so much the labour component — it's more waiting for the delivery of the product." Hume said he has already spoken to staff at the schools and said arrangements could be made to temporarily move students into spare rooms or hold classes in the gymnasium while the flooring is replaced. "We hope it's not going to be a major disruption. Moving into the gym could even be fun for the kids for a while." Local classroom upgrading may also serve as a model for schools across the rest of the province, as most older schools face similar damp conditions throughout the year.