New school needed now

Darrell Cole
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SAC chair seeking action on West Highlands Elementary

AMHERST - Students at West Highlands Elementary School cannot wait several years for a new school.

AMHERST - Students at West Highlands Elementary School cannot wait several years for a new school.

The chair of the school's advisory council has written a letter to the deputy minister of education, Dennis Cochrane, urging him to "fast track" construction of a replacement.

"The SAC makes this request fully knowing that it is not an easy one to facilitate, even in the best of times. We do however believe that recently obtained information and events have disclosed significant concerns which must be addressed immediately, as serious health and safety risks exist within our school building," Cindy Bourgeois said in a letter that has been obtained by the Daily News.

Concerns have been raised by parents of students attending the 94-year-old elementary school about the presence of mould and cancer-causing asbestos. While the school is due for a multi-million-dollar refurbishment in the next few years, parents, staff and the school advisory council feel a new school is the best solution.

"It is the school advisory council's view that a patch job approach will not adequately address the serious health and safety concerns presently existing at West Highlands. Spending millions of renovation dollars in the upcoming years would, in our opinion, be a waste of government resources, but further, not adequately address the majority of the concerns," Bourgeois said in the letter.

Cochrane recently visited the school and told officials with the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board that something has to be done to alleviate the situation there. Unfortunately, the province presently has a hold on new school construction projects.

Bourgeois is hoping safety concerns at the school will override that situation and that a new school will be built.

In her letter, she said there are structural concerns centred around the attic as well as the presence of mould and asbestos. While an initial study in 1998 termed the presence of asbestos as being low risk, a 2006 study said the asbestos in the classroom walls is of a nature that would pose a risk if exposed to open air.

Organizations: West Highlands Elementary School, Daily News, Central Regional School Board

Geographic location: Chignecto

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