Dusted out: Neighbours protest over school lot dust storms

Steve Kolida, who lives right across the street from the school and unpaved area, says he is frustrated by the indifference he feels is coming from the school district.

“There should be health concerns for the kids at the school,” he says. “There was a class out here one day and a wind came up and chased them all in. For us it’s a real nuisance.”

He says the calcium chloride they apply isn’t like they used to be – it drips out of a few barrels in the back of a truck, nothing like the highway trucks, which are far more effective.

“If they put the amount of calcium they used to it wouldn’t be as big a deal – but I think we’re fighting money.”

Kolida says the calcium covers the sand for a while but if they get heavy rain, it washes it all away.

Nino Maletta, general manager of property maintenance for the School District #57, says they usually apply calcium chloride 2-3 times during the spring to fall season. They need to wait until the ground thaws before applying it, and the ointment only begins to work after it rains.
“The weather needs to cooperate for sure,” Maletta says.

He says they have no plans to pave the area and the unpaved parking lot is typical of many schools in the district.

“We’ve got roads that are unpaved, we’ve got parking lots that are unpaved. If you go around the village I’m sure there are lots of areas that are unpaved.”

Maletta says the calcium chloride they use is “pretty much standard” in what is used by the ministry of highways or municipality – “It’s the only environmental choice,” he adds. The Valemount-based maintenance person keeps an eye on the property to ensure it’s treated as needed, Maletta says.

Stuart Tait has been trying to make a change at the school for several years and says he is very frustrated with the pace of change. He says the attitude seems to be “live with it or move.”

When the school was built there weren’t many homes around, so the dust was not seen as a problem, Tait says.

“We’re now in 2012 and we the neighbourhood battle with the school district on a regularly basis over their attempt to control the dust with calcium,” he says. “This is not working and we want this area of concern fixed permanently.”

He says they have lived across from the school for 19 yrs, and you can’t open window for fear for dust from the school. He says both adults and children have dust allergies, and the dust particulate likely contains mica and silica which are proven health hazards.

Helen Plotnikoff has lived for 20 years at the corner of Elm St. And 7th Ave just across from the elementary school. She says anytime there’s a wind the dust blow right into the house.

“It is a major problem,” she says. “I have to dust every day. We can’t open the windows. I’m having health issues – surgery – and I can’t clean my house all the time.”

She says it’s clear the bulk of the dust is whipping up from the sandy parking lot and bus lane in front of the school.
“All the neighbours are worried about it,” she says, adding they have complained about it to school district staff.
“We’ve been complaining about it for a long, long time and nobody’s doing anything about it. “

She says she hasn’t noticed any help from the chemical they applied. She would like to see the school district pave the parking lot and maybe plant some greenery.

The Environmental Health Officer with Northern Health Ivan Rukavina for the Robson Valley has reviewed the neighbourhoods concerns about the dust and told Tait he would review the issue with the air quality specialist in the regional office.

Maletta says they get a lot of different complaints about maintenance on the school property – if the grass is too long, or there are too many dandelions, for instance.

“It all takes money – it’s going to the kids education first,” he says.

He adds, however, that a survey crew was going to survey elementary school this month for paving specifications while they were in town dealing with another matter.

“At least we’ll have the information on what would be required so if one year we find out the village is doing some paving, then it would become more economical.”

He says it would cost several hundred thousand dollars to pave the area that is currently gravel, adding that they would likely shrink the parking area if paved.

Plotnikoff says she wishes the school district would join the village in paving the streets and cleaning up
the town.

“It would be so nice – the streets are all paved – the only thing that’s unpaved is the school yard.”

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