Local high school opens following air quality scare

Hay River’s high school reopened Thursday afternoon after being shut down for two-and-a-half days due to an air quality issue.
Diamond Jenness Secondary School principal Paul Theriault said staff and students had been locked out of the school since the afternoon of Oct. 25 after results from an air quality test conducted on Oct. 21 came back exceeding levels permitted by the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Committee of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Theriault said the results of consecutive tests conducted on Oct. 22 and 23 came back on Thursday morning and were within limits, allowing students and staff to return. The sample taken on Oct. 21 was sent to Edmonton for testing, including identifying the fibres under an electron microscope.


“When the analysis was done of what the fibres were, they were basically household dust,” Theriault said on Thursday.
Students were sent home from school Oct. 26 as school staff used a “theoretical” contingency plan to deal with the situation, Theriault explained. By the morning of Oct. 27, temporary classrooms were set up at Princess Alexandra School, Harry Camsell School, the Mackenzie Place highrise, the Don Stewart Recreation Centre, the Assumption Catholic Church basement, and the DJSS Trade Centre, where the welding bay became the senior English classroom temporarily.
“The level of professionalism and resourcefulness that the teachers at DJ have demonstrated in this mini-crisis is absolutely fantastic,” Theriault said Oct. 27. “You have to realize when they went home after work on Monday, their intent on what they thought was going to happen is Tuesday morning they would be back in their regular classrooms.”
Barred from entering the building, teachers had no access to their computers and resources locked away in the school. With limited resources at their disposal, teachers used “frontier-style education” with pen and paper, Theriault said.
Theriault said the issue was caused by the on-going renovations at the school, and he was glad the tests came back negative for asbestos, which has been discovered in much of the drywall throughout the school.
“Basically what we’ve got is proof that the system works,” he said. “We did have concerns over the three-day time lapse between discovery and reporting.”
New measures have already been put into place to ensure more timely reporting of air quality reports in the future, Theriault said.
“The powers that be agreed with us that that was a concern,” he said.
Staff and students were cooperative throughout the ordeal, Theriault explained.
“Staff demonstrated resourcefulness and ingenuity. They were just fantastic.”