Lochearn Elementary School in Rocky Mountain House shut down on Thursday due to air quality health concerns but it’s back in business today.
High levels of airborne mould were initially detected in at least three of the classrooms from tests by Alberta Infrastructure taken on Jan. 31. Results from a second round of tests on March 7 were released Thursday afternoon and confirmed the recent cleaning and repairs were effective and all air standards meet Health Canada guidelines.
“The No. 1 concern I have as a principal is the health and safety of my students and staff,” said Danielle Spencer, the school’s principal, in a press release. “I understand having our school closed and then opened was a major inconvenience for a lot of people and appreciate everyone’s understanding as we work together on this.”
The positive results are what the division expected after remediation work was conducted at the school on Feb. 20 and 21, said Gordon Majeran, the associate superintendent of corporate services with the Wild Rose School Division.
The recommendations in the first report from Alberta Infrastructure involved the replacing of all water stained ceiling tiles, a disinfection and cleaning of all identified areas with mould and targeted mould remediation — meaning encapsulation — on some of the bulkheads overhead at the school entrance, Majeran said.
Health Canada guidelines state that acceptable readings of airborne mould can be up to a maximum total of 150 colony forming units per cubic metre of air. From the Jan. 31 test, some classrooms were showing results of 643 and 468 units. The test taken last week found none of the investigated classrooms over 75.
“We will continue with testing to monitor the air quality and we will also be developing a roof repair plan,” Majeran said.
Structural problems were pointed out in the school early in the new year when the onset of warmer weather combined with the heavy snow load on the roof began to cause leaks, especially in the north wing.
One teacher, who did not want to be identified, said water was “flowing from the ceilings” in her classroom when she returned from Christmas break.
Concerned about mould, the division followed up with an air quality test, Majeran said.
The first results came back on Feb. 12 but were only fully revealed to Lochearn staff on Wednesday evening, which sparked the decision to close Lochearn on Thursday.
“They were concerned. … And not comfortable now that they knew the levels. … They didn’t want the students there so as a precautionary measure we decided it may be best to close the school until the new results came in,” Majeran said.
There was “no particular reason” staff were left in the dark about the exact levels of mould found in the school, he added.
“They knew there was work being done but they didn’t have the results. … We didn’t share them with them. … At the time we decided it was better to concentrate on cleaning it up.”
Lochearn School serves students from kindergarten to Grade 5. The building is well over 30 years old, Majeran said, and the roof has been the source of numerous problems over the years.