Nova Scotia

New high school opened without fire alarms or security cameras, says MLA

MLA Brendan Maguire tabled a bill at Province House on Wednesday calling for schools not to open without functioning fire alarms or security cameras.

Construction on J.L. Ilsley High School was not yet complete when it opened its doors this fall

The new J.L. Ilsley high school opened its doors in September. (Robert Short/CBC)

A Liberal MLA has tabled legislation requiring new schools to have functioning fire and security systems after learning a newly constructed high school in the Spryfield neighbourhood of Halifax opened without them.

Brendan Maguire, the MLA for Halifax Atlantic, tabled the New School Readiness Act on Wednesday, which would require a new school or an addition to an existing school to have security cameras and fire alarms in good working order before it is opened.

Maguire said J.L. Ilsley High School, which was constructed on a site adjacent to the old school building, was not ready when its doors were opened to students and staff at the beginning of the school year.

He said the building does not have smoke alarms or functioning security cameras, and that extra security officers have been brought in to monitor for fires or other threats.

"I want you to think about that for a second. A brand new school opened up, a huge school, 1,000 kids and you hire a handful of people to walk around the school to look for fire. They can't be everywhere at once," he said.

The school's cafeteria and skilled trades room were also not ready when the building opened, Maguire said.

Other safety concerns

He said he is also concerned about a seeming increase in bullying and violence at the school this year.

"People are being assaulted, they're being jumped," he said. "There was a video that was sent to me of a kid who was beat up and robbed. There was another video that was sent to me of a young girl who was jumped by a bunch of girls." 

MLA Brendan Maguire says the school opened without fire alarms or functioning security cameras. (Robert Short/CBC)

Maguire said he's heard from parents who have raised concerns about safety with school staff, but who do not feel appropriate action was taken. 

"People don't trust the process because they're not getting results that they feel they need, which is the safety of their children.… The underlying feeling right now from a lot of parents is that their children aren't safe."

Education Department responds

Jenna MacQueen, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, told CBC News there is on-site "fire watch staff," but the school would not have been allowed to open if it was not safe.

"Fire detection for the school is managed according to the Office of the Fire Marshal's approved fire watch plan," MacQueen said in an email.

School buses and an ambulance are parked outside J.L. Ilsley on Nov. 3, 2021. (Robert Short/CBC)

"The plan remains in place until a final verification report on system status, due this week, which will allow the [office] to approve the removal of fire watch staff."

MacQueen also said cameras were "wired and commissioned" after the school opened. Interior cameras are already in place and exterior cameras are expected to be functioning in the coming weeks.

Some work yet to be finished

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education said it is not uncommon for work to continue beyond the start of the school year.

Spokesperson Doug Hadley said in an email the cafeteria was completed at the time of opening, the music room was completed at the end of September, and the skilled trades room is now ready and will be occupied "any day." He said work remains to be done on the drama stage.

In response to a query about an increase in violence and bullying, Hadley said students and staff are still adapting to the new space and configuration.

"The adults in the building, including the administrators, are walking the halls regularly, building relationships with students and helping to shape a positive school climate," he said. "We encourage anyone with questions or concerns to contact the school principal."

CBC News also requested information from Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Services about the fire systems at the school, but no one was immediately able to provide a response.

The school serves about 900 students in grades 9 to 12.