January 24, 2008: Volume 35 #2
The school was closed by chief and council Jan. 8 because of heating and safety issues, including the lack of functioning fire suppression devices.
“(School officials and the community) tried to work with what they had to improve the situation but it was impossible to do on their own,” said Matawa First Nations Management CEO David Paul Achneepineskum, who oversees the tribal council Marten Falls and nine other communities belong to.
“The heat does not operate properly. The kids had to wear winter coats in the gym all the time to stay warm. It’s not acceptable.”
Eight days later, after meetings between community leaders and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), a one-time funding arrangement of $780,000 was secured to improve conditions within the school, which is home to 90 students.
“It’s very frustrating to have to close the school to get results,” Achneepineskum said.
Of the INAC funding committed to the school, about $650,000 is needed to fix the school’s heating and fire-suppression sprinkler systems and $130,000 is required for roof repairs, said department spokesman Tony Prudori.
Shingles, new heat system required
Achneepineskum called those numbers “rough estimates” but was optimistic repairs could be undertaken with those amounts.
“A lot of that money will go into a new boiler or furnace. The floor level heat delivery system must be re-done as well.”
A functioning sprinkler system, or lack thereof, is a major safety concern for school staff and parents, he said.
“It’s important for fire protection,” Achneepineskum said. “It’s piped in but it doesn’t work.”
He also wants fire extinguishers in the school, with staff trained to use them properly.
The school’s roof also requires work. New shingles are necessary to prevent continued leaks, Achneepineskum said.
“That likely can’t be done until we get better weather in the spring,” said Achneepineskum, who is a Marten Falls band member.
Water quality both in the school and the community as a whole is also a concern.
“The community has been under a boil-water advisory for more than a year now,” Achneepineskum said. “At the school, that’s a much bigger issue because the water was turned off because students were drinking it anyway. But that led to health and hygiene problems.”
INAC recently announced $373,000 in funding to carry out repairs to extend the life of the current water treatment plant, Prudori said.
More funding was provided to secure support from outside water quality specialists under INAC’s safe water program but the boil-water advisory remains in place for the community’s 300 residents, Prudori said.
Achneepineskum said the water will have to be turned back on at the school to provide a source for the sprinklers but officials are hesitant because of the boil-water advisory.
“Water to the taps and sinks may have to be turned off again to prevent consumption,” Achneepineskum said. “It’s something that will have to be looked at before the school will reopen.”
He said there exists the possibility of getting the school, which is about 20 years old, open sooner if contractors can expedite their work and electrical heat is used temporarily if boiler repairs fall behind.
The community and INAC are working on a timetable to get the repairs underway. Time is of the essence, Achneepineskum said.
As projects or parts of the repairs are scheduled, funds will be flowed to the community, Prudori said.
“We’re trying to make it happen fast so the students don’t lose their year … or too much classroom time,” he added.
Achneepineskum, whose grandchildren attend the school, said the students are currently being home-schooled because other locations in the community that could accommodate classes also require repairs.
Prudori said the one-time grant for Marten Falls’s Henry Coaster Memorial School wouldn’t impact annual funding to maintain the school and a teachers’ residence.
James Thom — firstname.lastname@example.org