Lake St. Martin flood evacuees' school shut down

Flood evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation have been dealt another blow, after their temporary school in Winnipeg suddenly closed today.

Number of fire code violations issued at Winnipeg school

Flooded-out members of the Lake St. Martin First Nation demand answers after their temporary school in Winnipeg was shut down by city inspectors. 2:02

Flood evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation have been dealt another blow, after their temporary school in Winnipeg closed suddenly on Tuesday.

Parents and grandparents of the 68 children, in Kindergarten to Grade 9, who were attending the school in the former Deer Lodge junior high on Ness Avenue are now demanding answers.

"I wasn't too happy because the kids need their education," said Bernice McKenzie, whose two grandchildren were studying at the school.

"I just read in the paper this morning why the school was closed down…. They should have gave us more notice."

According to the City of Winnipeg, the facility was inspected by the Fire Paramedic Service on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and issued a number of fire code and fire prevention bylaw violations.

"Acting under its legislated responsibility to protect life safety, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service had no other choice but to effect a closure at the facility until corrections were made," said Alissa Clark, a spokeswoman for the city.

Letters were then sent to the First Nation as well as to the federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Department, informing them of the order. 

The school was sold in 2010 by the St. James-Assiniboia School Division. It was being rented out to the First Nation.

Chief objects to school's closure

Lake St. Martin Chief Adrian Sinclair has sent a letter to provincial, federal and municipal leaders objecting to the school's closure.

The provincial and federal governments are trying to find other schools for the students to attend.

A gaping hole can be seen in a furnace pipe, exposing asbestos, in the school. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

Sinclair said the province wants to relocate the students to other school divisions, but he believes the children should stay together following 18 months of upheaval following last year's flood.

The Manitoba government told CBC News officials are trying to find space in a Winnipeg school that will accommodate all 68 students.

The chief said the affected students have received homework, and teachers will check on them daily. Some Grade 9 students may get to use a classroom at the band office, he added.

According to Sinclair, the landlord was supposed to have the furnace running on the first day of school, but that didn't happen.

Some ceiling heaters were installed throughout the school, but they were not enough to heat the building, especially the gymnasium, he said.

Sinclair said the Fire Paramedic Service had concerns with a number of floor space heaters that were plugged in throughout the school, which poses a fire hazard.

But Sinclair said the most serious problem is a damaged furnace pipe that appears to have asbestos coming out of it.

The company that owns the building told CBC News it is fixing the safety problems at the school, with the hope of having children back in class by the end of this week.

Sinclair said the band pays $32,000 a month to rent the school building.

Flooded-out reserve

The Lake St. Martin reserve, located in the Interlake area about 280 kilometres north of Winnipeg, was evacuated in May 2011 due to severe spring flooding.

The federal government had been covering flood evacuees' food and lodging expenses, but some people's benefits were cut off earlier this year after their claims were deemed to be ineligible.

While some found other places to live, including a temporary village set up by the province — a decommissioned military radar base near Gypsumville off Highway 6 — others remained in Winnipeg as their children had already started attending the school.

Meanwhile, the province is still looking for a more permanent location for the band members, whose reserve has been deemed inhabitable due to the flooding damage and future risks.

But many refuse to move into the interim village. They are demanding land in an area between the communities of Grahamdale and Moosehorn, Man., for their new community instead.

Many are worried that if they move into the temporary location, they may be stuck there and never get a permanent community with proper infrastructure or amenities.