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Lower Mainland high school closed over asbestos concerns

Students dismissed early for allow for air quality testing at Walnut Grove Secondary in Langley
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Walnut Grove Secondary is closed as air quality testing for asbestos is done. (Google photo)

Walnut Grove Secondary students have been sent home early Thursday after restoration work to fix damage from a flood disturbed asbestos.

The students were slated to be let out just before 2 p.m. Thursday, March 9 for parent/teacher meetings but were sent home at lunchtime.

The school’s drama room was flooded March 1 due to a burst water tank, and a restoration firm was brought in.

“As part of remediation work at WGSS as directed by WorkSafe, air testing results from Wednesday evening have come back clear. As directed by WorkSafe and out of an abundance of caution, more testing in additional rooms will be completed. To assist contract workers, the school is moving dismissal early. Students were dismissed at 12 noon. More information will be shared as soon as possible,” principal Jeremy Lyndon texted families.

School families received a letter about the matter dated Wednesday, March 8.

“Contractors discovered a material which was tested today; reports indicate it was Vermiculite, a material which can contain asbestos. The reported sample indicated the material is 2 percent Actinolite (fibrous), which is a type of asbestos that is hazardous when airborne,” the principal.

He noted that since the flood, access to the drama room had been restricted and the contractor took immediate steps when the asbestos was discovered.

“Under the direction of WorkSafe, the school will continue to be open for students and staff. In addition, as directed by WorkSafe, the west wing will be closed to enable contractors to work,” he said.

Several steps have been including blocking off the drama room area and initiating testing.

Air quality testing was done Wednesday, March 8, and although it came back clear, testing was expanded to more of the school, which was built in 1990. The school has more than 2,000 students and approximately 200 employees.

The school district can’t say when students return to class but will provide that information as soon as possible, said Joanne Abshire, district communications manager.

On Thursday evening, the district sent out a statement to the media, outlining the timeline.

“On Thursday morning, the district obtained results from numerous interior air samples which were taken outside of the drama room (in the area that was closed). Based on the results and the direction from WorkSafe, the area was cleared for occupancy by students and staff,” Abshire explained.

WorkSafe has been on site and is directing testing of additional rooms.

“In addition to the limited number of rooms being tested as required by WorkSafe, the District has decided to test all learning spaces in the school, beyond the expectations of WorkSafe,” she noted.

School families received a letter from superintendent Mal Gill as well with similar information. Students are off school Friday, March 10, and the district will provide an update while the school is closed for spring break.

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LETTER TO PARENTS

March 8, 2023

Dear Parents/Guardians, Students and Staff,

We have important information to share about Walnut Grove Secondary. On Wednesday of last week, there was a flood in the drama room. We have been working with our contractor CANSTAR to complete the restoration project over the last few days. Contractors discovered a material which was tested today; reports indicate it was Vermiculite, a material which can contain asbestos. The reported sample indicated the material is 2 percent Actinolite (fibrous), which is a type of asbestos that is hazardous when airborne. The contractor took immediate steps to contain the material and ensure the room was safe. It is important to know that access to the drama room has been restricted since the flood. Under the direction of WorkSafe, the school will continue to be open for students and staff. In addition, as directed by WorkSafe, the west wing will be closed to enable contractors to work. Below are the steps we have taken to mitigate the problem.

Here is what was completed today:

  • The contractor sealed the portions of the floor which were exposed and contained the material.
  • The contractor closed off in and out access to the drama room.
  • The contractor displayed signage on the doors of the room to communicate no access. The District shut off the HVAC system in that area of the building as a precaution.
  • The District confirmed with manufacturers that our MERV 13 filters filter asbestos fibers.
  • The District consulted with WorkSafe and a WorkSafe Officer completed an inspection. The school altered plans regarding room locations for the parent/teacher conferences and communicated to staff to avoid the drama room and west wing, to allow contractors to do their work.

Here is what is expected to be completed tonight:

  • The contractor will be cleaning up the drama room.
  • The school will be closing the west wing, to allow contractors to do their work.
  • The school will be relocating some classes for Thursday with information to be shared with students prior to class.

Here what is expected tomorrow (March 9):

  • The contractor will be completing remediation expectations as required by WorkSafe. The west wing will be closed including the cafeteria which means there will be no breakfast club and lunch service.

The district is continuing to work with our contractor, WorkSafe, and environmental specialists, and is committed to implementing any further recommendations moving forward. The school and the District take this situation very seriously. The health and safety of students and staff continue to be our priority. We will provide updates when new information is available.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Lyndon

Principal

Walnut Grove Secondary

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Heather Colpitts

About the Author: Heather Colpitts

Since starting in the news industry in 1992, my passion for sharing stories has taken me around Western Canada.
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