Teachers, parents, decry conditions at Grimshaw school

School officials and parents in Grimshaw, Alta. are calling on the province to replace Holy Family School because the building is falling apart.

Leaky roofs, bad plumbing and substandard heating at a northern Alberta school are so bad that staff and parents in Grimshaw are calling on the province to replace the entire building.

Officials have just sent a seven-minute video to Alberta Education, showing rusty pipes, exposed wires, and children who are so cold, they need to wear their winter coats in the library of the 50-year-old school.

"The last two years ... the repairs and the maintenance and the breaking-down of equipment, mechanical, plumbing, it seems like it's increasing every single month," said Cora Ostermeier, the principal of Holy Family School.

Ostermeier says she spends hours each week looking after maintenance issues, time she feels should be spent with students. Parent Allison Hill says there are often strange smells in the school.

"You worry that, well, what kind of air [is] my children breathing while they're at school for eight hours a day?" Hill said.

According to an engineering report, it would cost $8.8 million to fix the school's plumbing, heating and venting systems. Additional funds would be needed to upgrade the rest of the building. The cost of a entirely new building is estimated at $13 million.

The Holy Family Catholic Regional School Division has made a new school the top funding priority in its annual report to the province over the last ten years, but the funding never come through. 

Hill believes the school's location might be a factor.

"I do feel that possibly because we are a rural school ... we are being looked over or neglected," she said.

Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has seen the video and plans to visit the school next week.

"If the school is unsafe, if the school is inadequate, I can tell you I will not spare any effort to make sure that Grimshaw students end up in the type of a building that they deserve to be in," he said.

Hill hopes the money is approved before students are hurt physically or academically by the condition of the building.