Students at a brand-new school in Gander are plugging their noses and taking shelter inside to hide from the stench of a nearby sewage treatment plant, according to one school family.
Gander Elementary, which opened this year, was built within 200 metres of a sewage treatment plant on Magee Road in Gander.
Grade 6 student Selena Hart said that teachers are closing windows in classrooms and students are staying inside at break times, because the smell of sewage across the parking lot is so overwhelming.
"It smells like sewer," she said on her way to school on Monday morning. "Not every day, but sometimes in the summer, and a lot in the school days."
'It smells like sewer.' - Selena Hart, Grade 6
Sharon Hart, Selena's mom, says her daughter is missing out on valuable exercise because of the stench.
"Especially recess, it's the time for them to have a break to get outside, to run around, and they actually can't do it because the smell is so bad when they go out that they get nauseous," Hart explains.
School stinks — really
Selena says her friends say the school grounds smell like "cow manure."
Hart says the problem should have been predicted, because the sewage treatment plant was spreading an awful stench to nearby homes for years before Gander Elementary opened.
"My personal belief is that something should be taken and done right now, immediately. Some kind of step. That should be the town's priority, so my children, and the kids of Gander, can actually go outside," she said.
"It's not just at school, I have friends over in the new subdivision who have ice rinks in the back year and the kids play hockey and want to go outside and actually have to come in because the smell is so bad."
'Some kind of step. That should be the town's priority.' - Sharon Hart
But Percy Farwell, Gander's mayor, says the town has little choice but to grin and bear it until a new wastewater treatment plant is opened in the fall of 2019.
He said in an ideal world, the existing Magee Road facility — built in 1978 — would have been ready to decommission this year, to align with the opening of the new school.
However, he said delays in the approvals of financing and construction of the new sewage treatment plant means it's not ready yet, and the old one needs to remain operational.
"It's quite an unpleasant smell, and not something that is desirable. And it's something that unfortunately, we're going to have to live with … until our new plant is completed," he said.
'As soon as possible'
Farwell explained that Gander's town council first started the process to request provincial and federal funding for a new plant in 2012, and funding was only granted in 2017.
He said the town has been growing faster than expected over the past three decades, and the town has spread out to meet the area of the sewage plant on Magee Road. That — combined with a lengthy funding process — has led to the smelly situation.
He added there isn't a realistic option to mitigate the odours produced by the Magee Road plant over the next two years, although city staff have been told by provincial health department officials that there is no health risk due to the odour.
"I'm certainly not suggesting that people should just suck it up and not worry about it. I mean obviously it's an inconvenience, and it's not pleasant, but in the current situation … given where we are now, what we're trying to do is rectify this as soon as possible."
Selena Hart said on multiple occasions, teachers at Gander Elementary have decided to keep students inside during their recess breaks.
The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District said in a statement that while students were kept inside on two days where a strong odour was present, the determining factor was weather — namely ice and cold conditions.
"There has been no direction to have windows in the school closed," added Cheryl Gullage, a spokesperson for the district, in an email.
"This is a new school building and mitigation measures are in place which include enhanced carbon filters for the air handling units of the school to reduce any potential odour concerns."