Nova Scotia

Fire marshal redirects orders after dispute over Amherst school maintenance

Nova Scotia school officials are withdrawing an appeal of two fire marshal orders for corrective action at an Amherst school after winning a dispute over who is responsible for maintenance.

Amherst Regional High School complex is owned by a private developer as part of public-private partnership

Students are shown welding in this stock photo. Amherst Regional High School has a skilled trades building at its campus. (Andy Shell/Shutterstock)

Nova Scotia school officials are withdrawing an appeal of two fire marshal orders for corrective action at an Amherst school after winning a dispute over who is responsible for maintenance.

On Nov. 6, the Office of the Fire Marshal issued orders to take action to address "hazards" at a newly built skilled trades building adjacent to the Amherst Regional High School.

The Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education (CCRCE) appealed on the grounds the facilities are owned by Ashford Properties and leased back to the province under a public-private partnership deal signed back in the 1990s.

In a Nov. 28 submission to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB), Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education health and safety co-ordinator Jacqueline Fahey wrote the building owner has always been responsibly for the facility's maintenance requirements.

"They were the project manager and also the owner with the skilled trades building addition. As such, Ashford Properties should receive and be responsible to comply with these orders," she wrote.

The UARB posted the documents on its website Monday.

Withdrawn appeal

After inquiries by CBC News, Chignecto said it was withdrawing its appeal "due to a recent notification from the Office of the Fire Marshal that they will be reissuing the requests to the building owner."

"Our students' and staff's safety are a top priority for us. There are no immediate safety risks at Amherst Regional High School," spokesperson Jennifer Rodgers said in a statement to CBC on Monday.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Fire Marshal confirmed in a statement to CBC that the corrective orders will be directed to Ashford.

The matter will no longer be heard by the UARB.

What the fire marshal's inspections found

The dispute dates back to a September inspection by Bentley Rice, deputy fire marshal. He issued orders to clean up combustible dust found at the new skilled trades building after finding dust buildup on lockers and ceilings throughout the facility.

A follow-up inspection in November again found accumulated combustible dust.

The order said the fire marshal's office asked to meet with interested parties to discuss dust-control measures, but that did not happen prior to re-inspection.

The fire marshal also cited the building for violating testing requirements for fire protection systems.

In a separate action at Amherst Regional High School, the fire marshal's office ordered that a washer and dryer be removed and replaced with commercial-grade appliances.

Ashford has built multiple skilled trades centres

Ashford Properties said it has built around six identical skilled trades centre additions at the request of the province without objection from other fire marshals.

Ashford owner Patrick Gillespie said they were designed by the same architect.

"There's a disagreement now between the architect that designed these things and the fire marshal that has to approve these things," Gillespie said.

"I'm not an engineer. I'm not an architect. I'm not a professional, but whatever the decision is, we'll abide by it."

At the skilled trades building, Rodgers said adequate monitoring of dust collection and dust-control measures are taking place.

"The residential washer and dryer onsite have not been installed and are not in use by students or staff members," she wrote.

"CCRCE does not have access to reports or other documentation related to the items requested. However, the building's fire safety plan and regular inspection procedures are in place and tested regularly to ensure the safety of our students and staff."

Fire marshal initially rejected Chignecto's position

In her appeal letter, Fahey tried to explain to the fire marshal's office that because CCRCE was just the tenant, it would not comply with the orders.

This explanation was initially rejected by the fire marshal's office.

In 1998, a Liberal provincial government signed agreements with four developers to lease 39 schools under public-private partnerships for 20 years. Ashford, based out of Moncton, N.B., was one of the developers.

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