British Columbia

School temporarily closed because of health concerns from mysterious smell

The North Okanagan-Shuswap school district announced Friday it is suspending operations at Parkview Elementary in Sicamous because of health and safety concerns. Interior Health recommended the school close down and relocate students until the source of an inexplicable odour can be determined.

'It smells musty like a concrete basement,' says superintendent

The school district has been sending samples to try to determine the cause of the smell. 'Everything seems to be coming back negative. You know, the air samples were clean. It's been quite frustrating,' said superintendent Peter Jory. (Submitted by School District 83)

The North Okanagan-Shuswap School District announced Friday it is suspending operations at Parkview Elementary in Sicamous because of health and safety concerns.

Interior Health recommended the school close and relocate students until the source of an inexplicable odour can be determined.

"It smells musty like a concrete basement," said superintendent Peter Jory.

The smell has been around for two weeks and is especially noticeable after heavy rain.

However, it isn't the smell itself that is causing alarm. It's the complaints from staff that they're experiencing allergy-type symptoms, such as watery eyes and sore throats over the past few weeks that has officials concerned. 

"Because we don't know what the source is, Interior Health said it would be an appropriate precaution to close the building until [we're] able to identify it," said Jory.

Search for the smell

The operations department has been searching the school building non-stop to try to find the source of the smell, Jory told the CBC's Courtney Dickson.

This includes searching the crawlspace and the attic, investigating drains, putting cameras on wires through the ducts and taking samples from the walls. In addition to the school's own crews, two risk restoration companies have consulted on the matter, as well as WorkSafeBC and Interior Health, he said.

"If we really had an idea we would be pursuing that," said Jory. They have been sending samples to labs to try to determine what it could be.

"Everything seems to be coming back negative. You know, the air samples were clean. It's been quite frustrating."

Relocating students

Meanwhile, the school's 190 students have been asked to stay home Monday and Tuesday next week, and starting on Wednesday, primary students will be sent to Eagle River Secondary in Sicamous, and grades 2 to 3 to North Canoe and grades 4 to 6 to South Canoe in Salmon Arm.

Arrangements for school buses to Salmon Arm are in the works, said Jory. 

"We really need those tests to come back [to] determine what kind of work needs to occur to mitigate against the concerns," he said.

Until then, the school will remain closed.

With files from Courtney Dickson

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