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Mould forces temporary closure of St. Patrick Catholic School

Students are set to go back to school in less than two weeks, but those expecting to return to St. Patrick Catholic School will be headed elsewhere. A mould problem in the subsurface of the building can no longer be contained, and the school board decided Monday to close it for at least the 2017/2018 school year.

Superintendent Karl Germann says they discovered the black mould and other varieties two years ago, but it was contained at that time. However, it has continued to fluorish, and air sampling tests done between July 5th and August 8th found the air quality exceeded Health Canada guidelines three-fold.

“Basically, the floor was concrete and then it was torn up and built as a false floor, but they put wood and gyprock over dirt, and so that just started to rot and it was all sealed so we couldn’t get at it.”

Germann adds that if they tried to remediate when staff and students were in the school, the HVAC system would be circulating the mould throughout the building. A restoration company is coming in, and it sounds like some of the floors will need to be demolished to access the problem areas. Demolition alone could cost $400,000, but the total scale of the project is still unknown.

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A modernization for St. Patrick was announced by the province earlier this year that would see the school’s gym and three classrooms replaced. However, school board vice chair Michael Ouellette says they had been hoping for a completely new school.

“Our fear from the board’s point of view is always, what happens if it gets to this area, this level of damage to the school. We wanted a better decision a year ago; we didn’t get that, so now this is why we’re in this situation.”

Ouellette says they’ll again be requesting a meeting with Alberta Education Minister David Eggen to decide their next steps. While the modernization isn’t off the table at this point, it has been shelved to address the more pressing issue.

“We need answers,” he maintains. “Parents deserve answers and the children deserve what’s best for them.”

In the meantime, all Pre-Kindergarten to grade 7 students will be moved to Holy Cross Catholic School, and will be transported by yellow bus for free. Four new bus routes have been created to drive through the catchment area, with new drivers being flown in to Grande Prairie from across western Alberta, as there aren’t enough in the city.

The 25 grade 8 students enrolled at St. Patrick will be accommodated at Mother Teresa Catholic School, and will also get free yellow bus transportation. They will board the Mother Teresa Montessori bus to be taken to class.

The 20 staff employed at St. Pat’s will follow the students. Ouellette says employees at all three schools are doing everything they can to put the students first despite schools already being full.

“Because we don’t have room in our other schools, we’e really had to move stuff around, and both Holy Cross and Mother Teresa are accommodating us. Maybe we have to move some stuff, change some rooms, use libraries, use other rooms that are available.”

“The last 24 hours has been interesting,” adds Germann, “but you realize that you’ve got a lot of good people when you can actually pull off something like this in such a short period of time.”

It’s hoped that keeping the students with the teachers they were expecting will lessen the effect of the upheaval on them. Board trustee and parent of two St. Patrick’s students Alyeska Silvester-Degen says she understands parents will still be concerned.

“If I’m not comfortable sending my own children to that school, then I don’t want to expose our staff or the other students to any hazardous conditions. I’m sure parents won’t mind being a little inconvenienced knowing that their children are safer.”

The school district is reaching out to all families affected, and bus routes will be made available during the last week of August. Anyone with questions can go to Holy Cross, Mother Teresa, or the office at St. Pat’s or call the schools to get more information or a tour of where their child will be attending.

The school is currently being packed up, and the first move will happen Thursday.

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