Sask. First Nations company creating 'sugar cube' barriers to fight COVID-19 spread in classrooms

Pro Metal Industries Ltd started creating PPE for classrooms for Pasqua First Nation. Other schools are now expressing interest.

Pro Metal Industries Ltd. is manufacturing Plexiglas desk shields, hand washing and hand sanitizer stations

Pro Metal Industries Ltd. in Regina is producing Plexiglas shields that fit on all desk sizes for schools that want to install barriers in their classrooms. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

A metal fabrication company in Regina is fast-tracking the production of Plexiglas desk shields and sanitation stations to meet the demand from schools that want to find creative ways to keep students and staff safe at schools this fall. 

Pro Metal Industries Ltd., owned by Pasqua First Nation, manufactures products for gas, mining, agriculture and more. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has shifted to creating personal protective equipment (PPE). 

In early June, Pro Metal partnered with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations to create hundreds of thousands of face masks and gloves, 2,000 face shields and isolation gowns for front-line workers in First Nations communities. 

Now the company is shifting to helping schools reopen safely, starting with the Chief Paskwa Education Centre on Pasqua First Nation, northeast of Regina.

"They're actually the ones that gave us a lot of ideas in terms of what the needs are for back to school," Mark Brown, President of Pro metal Industries Ltd, said.

Mark Brown, President of Pro Metal Industries Ltd., shows a prototype of the Plexiglas cubes students on Pasqua First Nation will be using this fall. The cubes are clear, but a blue film protects them during shipping. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

'Sugar cube' desk pods

The company has created cubic desk barriers, hand sanitizer stations with foot pumps and portable hand washing stations.

"The hope with the cubes is it's going to prevent any kind of COVID spread through water droplets or anything like that," Brown said. The company sells each cube for about $400.

Chief Paskwa Education Centre Principal Christina Johns said the Plexiglass cubes will be on each individual desk. She said masks will be mandatory throughout the school, but students may be able to have a breather behind their glass. 

"You can't wear your mask 100 per cent of the time," Jones told The Morning Edition. "So that helps with having that double protection around your desk." 

Principal Christina Johns sits behind the barrier that has been installed on a teacher's desk inside Chief Paskwa Education Centre on Pasqua First Nation. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Maureen Johns, director of education for Pasqua First Nation, has nicknamed the Plexiglas pods "sugar cubes."

"That's my name for them. Cube, because it looks like a cube, and the student that sits at the cube is sweet, so these are the sugar cubes," she said. "We've been playing around with what we'll name them so the students will like to sit at them. We're not going to call them your cage, or your enclosure."


Brown said the company's other main product is the portable hand washing stations. The sinks have a reservoir full of hot water, so they can be placed outside the school for children to use before entering the building, or in individual classrooms. 

Maureen Johns, director of education for Pasqua First Nation, has nicknamed the Plexiglas pods 'sugar cubes.' (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Brown said working with Pasqua First Nation gives the company a unique opportunity.

"They're in charge of their own back-to-school plan. So they're saying 'OK, we'll see what the province is doing. We want to do better than that. We want to keep our communities safe and our students safe,'" Brown said. 

The company is 100 per cent owned by the First Nation.

"We have our own facility," Brown said. "We want to build it and then obviously create economic prosperity for [Pasqua First] Nation as well."

Portable sinks are one of the products being offered by Pro Metal Industries Ltd for schools in Saskatchewan. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)
Pasqua First Nation is installing Plexiglas barriers on all of its desks. Each classroom will have at most 15 students when classes resume in October. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Brown said the company has been getting calls from other schools, both First Nations and non-First Nations, this month. He said a school in Regina that has 300 students but only a couple washrooms is searching for more hand-washing options.

"Pasqua's set a really good example as a model for other schools," Brown said. "There's a lot of schools taking that example and saying 'OK, we didn't know this existed — We want to implement this in our school."

With files from Bonnie Allen and The Morning Edition