Parents worry over asbestos removal at Nepean elementary school

Some parents of students attending Briargreen Public School in Nepean are angry about the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s plan to carry out asbestos removal while children sit in classrooms nearby.

Starting Friday, a portion of the open-concept elementary school was walled off to allow for asbestos-containing materials (ACM) to be removed. 

Some parents are so concerned they’re pulling their children out of school while the removal takes place.

Todd Lavigne

Todd Lavigne’s twins attend Briargreen Public School. He’s pulled them out of class for the week while asbestos is removed from one part of the building. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

“My kids are out of school for the week. They’ve gone to their grandmother’s,” said Todd Lavigne, whose children Casey and Hailey both attend Briargreen.

“There’s a lot of other parents who are doing the same, just out of concern for the health of the kids,” he said.

In an email circulated among parents, Lavigne wrote: “You need to ask yourself, would you still send your kids to school knowing that it is a one room school and the asbestos is being removed from the insulation, pipes, ceiling tiles, etc.?”

‘My kids are out of school for the week…. There’s a lot of other parents who are doing the same, just out of concern for the health of the kids.’
– Todd Lavigne, parent

Lavigne said parents were only informed Friday that the abatement work would begin the following Monday, May 29. 

But in an email to CBC News, the OCDSB said the first meeting on the issue took place nearly three months ago on March 2. 

Minutes of a question-and-answer session held April 12 about upcoming construction and asbestos removal at Briargreen were posted on the school council website. 

Sharon Edgar of the Briargreen school council wrote in an email that while she too is unhappy about the construction, she was among only a few parents who attended three school board meetings and two Q&A sessions on the issue.

“Unfortunately each meeting has only had five to eight people attending, so not enough of a presence to make a difference,” she wrote to Lavigne. 

Safety precautions in place

According to Edgar, the school council was assured the ventilation in the walled-off portion of the school has been shut down so that air cannot circulate to where students are. 

The OCDSB has confirmed the construction area is sealed and is being maintained with a negative air pressure system. Daily air quality testing will be conducted, in keeping with the Ministry of Education guidelines, the board said.

That isn’t good enough for parent Dave Henry, whose sons are in Grades 2 and 5 at Briargreen. 

“I’m sure everything is being done properly, but what happens if it’s not, and our kids are there and being exposed to it? You wouldn’t know for years to come. I’m surprised they’d take that risk with students,” he said. 

Abatement during school year ‘not desirable’

This isn’t the first time an Ottawa school has had asbestos removed during the school year. The OCDSB said the procedure has been performed in a number of schools while students were present.

“Although not desirable, ACM abatement can occur throughout the year. We have done this successfully at schools like Mutchmor PS and Earl of March SS,” the OCDSB said in an email. 

The school board said it’s necessary to have the asbestos removed before renovations can begin. 

Starting in September, Briargreen Public School will be accepting children from Leslie Park Public School, which is scheduled to close. Additional classroom space is being created at Briargreen to accommodate the new arrivals. 

The presence of asbestos is common in schools in the Ottawa area. 

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