Two Pemberton parents take on the government Ignoring Signal Hill school unfair, says letter to education minister By Chris Woodall Two parents with children attending Pemberton’s dilapidated Signal Hill elementary school have written a fact-filled letter to education minister Paul Ramsey to demand why the school has been ignored for replacement. The letter notes overcrowding in a school that failed a "Level 2 Facilities Audit" of the school’s structural, service, safety and functional systems. "All systems are well below requirements of present building code," say Jo-Anne Dilling and Judy Chumley in their letter to education minister Paul Ramsey. A copy was sent to premier Glen Clark. "Our children’s health and safety are put in jeopardy by being regularly exposed to these conditions," the two parents write. That Signal Hill was not among the 95 schools included in the government’s recent announcement of school construction and planning projects was frustrating, the parents say. "Once again we were shocked beyond belief when… ours was not included," Dilling and Chumley write. The frustration for the two parents is compounded when they say they were told by Howe Sound School Board superintendent Doug Courtice that the school was 43rd on the province’s priority list. But when the parents tried to get a copy of that list from the ministry of education’s department of facilities, Dilling and Chumley were told no such list exists. "My big question to government is, if we were 43rd on a priority list of 95 schools, where’s the math that kept Signal Hill off the announced list," Dilling says. The two parents used the government’s own guidelines to make their case that not only is Signal Hill over crowded, but it is so over crowded that it qualifies as a "high priority." "According to the ministry of education ranking criteria, high priority will be given to additional space where enrolments or projected enrolments exceed capacity by 50 students in elementary schools," the letter says. A table that follows shows the school has exceeded capacity by 63 students in 1992 (19.4 per cent over crowded), 80 in ’93 (24.6 per cent), 92 in ’94 (28.3 per cent), 93 in ’95 (28.3 per cent), 89 in ’96 (27.3 per cent), and by 117 students in 1997 (36 per cent over crowded). Projections further show that school capacity will continue to be exceeded by similar numbers in the next five years. The parents say an assumption that Pemberton won’t have any major economic changes in the next while to affect school population growth, is incorrect because it doesn’t acknowledge affordable housing developments that will bring more people — and children — to the village as Whistler’s housing crisis continues. Throwing more portable classrooms at the problem only "takes away from an already over crowded playground," says Dilling’s and Chumley’s letter. As for the Level 2 facility audit, Signal Hill got 37 out of a possible 100 points. "As you are aware... our school failed," the letter says. "If our children received a grade such as this, we would hasten to rectify the situation immediately." The school earned 11 of 32 possible points for its architectural systems, 11.6 of a possible 17 points for its structural systems, 5.4 of 34 points for its service systems, two out of five points for its safety systems, and seven out of 12 points for its functional systems. Air quality is another important concern. A test for carbon dioxide concentrations carried out by Pacific Engineering showed that nine of 15 classrooms exceeded the "Ashrae standard" of 1,000 parts per million of CO2, four of seven portable classrooms exceeded that limit, and part of a hallway and the staff room were above that limit. A further air quality test by the Workers Compensation Board, Feb. 27, this year, has not been released. "We as parents do not wish our children to attend school for at least six hours of each school day in a facility where air quality does not conform to Ashrae standards, where all the life safety systems consisting of fire alarms, emergency lighting and exit lighting are 20-30 years old with minimal upgrading or improvements," the letter says. "I just don’t want my kid to be in an unhealthy environment all day long," Dilling says. She currently has a son in Grade 4. Chumley has a son and daughter in the school’s first two grades. The letter-writing parents haven’t heard from the government yet, but they say the school board is slated to meet with the education ministry soon. "I’d like to hope for a positive result, but that’s being optimistic," admits Dilling. Going up against the great monolith of provincial government is frustrating, Dilling says, "But if we don’t do anything about it, who’s going to?"