The Department of Education has labeled 15 of P.E.I.'s 62 schools as a high priority for repairs to deal with problems of mould and moisture.

Education Minister Doug Currie ordered inspections of all Island schools after mould was discovered at Elm Street School in Summerside last year. That school was closed while repairs were made, and since then Morell Consolidated and Spring Park Elementary have been closed for repairs.

Among the 15 schools targeted for priority repairs, Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown stands out because some large-scale mould issues have been identified there.

The inspection report recommends that the basement not be used even for storage. It requires a level three mould remediation — the highest level. That means mould was found spread out over an area of a 100 square feet [9.2 square metres] or more.

The problem is complicated by the presence of asbestos in some of the school's materials.

Because of these concerns, much of the repair work necessary at the 15 schools won't be carried out until the summer.

At Bluefield High School, there have been attempts this year to fix the mould problem with some classrooms being taken out of use for a time. Mould has now been discovered in the cafeteria.

Sherwood Elementary and Englewood School also have a number of mould and water-related issues.

The province said there are no concerns with air quality, and therefore there are no health concerns — although these inspections have only been visual. There has been no testing of air quality in these buildings.

In the inspection reports for many of the schools, there have been complaints about air quality. There's been no explanation offered for that discrepancy.

Priority repairs required

Bluefield, Hampshire; Central Queens, Hunter River; Colonel Gray, Charlottetown; East Wiltshire, Cornwall; Eliot River, Cornwall; Englewood, Crapaud; Evangeline, Abrams Village; Kensington Intermediate Senior High, Kensington; Morell Consolidated, Morell; Mount Stewart, Mount Stewart; Queen Charlotte, Charlottetown; Parkside, Summerside; Sherwood, Charlottetown; Spring Park Elementary, Charlottetown; Stonepark, Charlottetown.

Some of the new schools identified with problems are

  • Bluefield: mould reported within the cafeteria.
  • Colonel Grey: large-scale mould in the basement.
  • Sherwood: visible mould found in radiators in two rooms.
  • Englewood: visible mould on ceiling tiles in the staff room and library.
  • East Wiltshire and Stonepark: minor mould in numerous areas

Almost all of the high priority schools are in the Eastern School District.

"I mean this basically is a result of a lack of an annual inspection process," said Education Minister Doug Currie.

"We need to make sure our buildings are healthy and safe. This boils down to putting a plan in place that is a proactive plan as opposed to a reactive plan."   Owen Parkhouse, president of the P.E.I. Home and School Association, said maintenance budgets have been squeezed for too long.

"Long term maintenance has to take place, and when budgets are cut you can't cut the long term maintenance," said Parkhouse.

"In the long run you'll pay."  Maintenance budgets for schools were cut by four per cent in the government's budget for 2011.

St. Jean not a priority

St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown is not on the list for priority repairs, despite having its basement closed for use in March.

Air Cadets had been using the basement for marksmanship practice on a pellet gun shooting range.

"Water intrusion and mould affected areas are present in the basement level underneath the gymnasium," reads the report on the school.

"Access should be limited by all and restricted to people with asthma, allergies or compromised immune systems."

When asked about St. Jean, Currie said there was no history of problems in the building.

"The school occupational health and safety committees are the ones that provide the current day-to-day information," he said.

Thirty-four of 62 school inspection reports are currently posted on the Education Department's website. The government said the rest will be up by the end of the month.