Health worries at Regal Road P.S. after construction drags on

Regal Road Junior Public School had asbestos removed and a new heating system installed over the summer. But now, the construction has dragged on past the original Labour Day deadline and a second deadline of Oct. 15 will also be missed.

Students, staff complain about air quality but TDSB says it's safe

Parent Stephanie Ayers says construction has gone on too long at Regal Road Public School and students and staff are having breathing problems. (Stephanie Ayers)

Parents of students at Regal Road Junior Public School are worried about their kids' health after construction to replace the school's furnace and to remove asbestos from the site has dragged on well into the school year.

The reconstruction was supposed to have finished before kids returned to the elementary school located near Dufferin Street and Davenport Road. Then parents were told the project would be over Oct. 15. Now it looks unlikely it will be done by then. Huge holes remain where likely asbestos-insulated pipes had run from the old boilers and to radiators throughout the school. 

Regal Road Jr. Public School, located near Dufferin St. and Davenport Rd. has 600 students. It also houses a daycare. (Josie Stern, Sutton Group)

"It's gone on far too long and now we have a school full of kids and construction is ongoing," said parent council member Stephanie Ayers.

"There's been an increase in absences. For students that have breathing issues, asthma and that kind of thing, they are definitely having trouble. There's one child in my son's class who has gone home early every single day."

Ayers says kids have been wheezing and coughing and at least one staff member at the school has been off since the end of September because of respiratory problems.

Another child who has acute asthma ended up in hospital for four days and three nights, only to end up back in a hospital ER within 24 hours. That child has been kept home by the parent ever since.

The Toronto District School says most of the work being done in the basement has been blocked off from staff and students. All work outside the mechanical room is being conducted after school hours and on weekends. (Stephanie Ayers)

Air quality within acceptable limits: TDSB

Toronto District School Board spokesperson Ryan Bird told CBC Toronto construction was required to replace the boiler and upgrade the heating system and that construction will go on for at least another week after Oct. 15.

"That was the original date, but with every renovation there can be delays so it appears it will take another week or so to complete the work," said Bird, adding that the asbestos abatement part of the project was completed during the summer break.

"HEPA vacuums were used following asbestos abatement. It's my understanding that the basement that has been blocked off from staff and students will be thoroughly cleaned this weekend. Any additional cleaning will be done at the Project Supervisor's request."

As for air quality, Ryan said at least two air samplings have been taken at the school and all results were within acceptable limits.

Gaping holes still remain in the basement ceiling. Parents are concerned construction dust will be spread throughout the school when the new heating system kicks in. (Stephanie Ayers)

But Ayers, from the parent council, questioned those findings.

"The air quality may be safe but there may be other factors like dust from the plaster. And children stir that up and spread it through the school," she said.

There's also concern about what will happen when the new furnace is turned on. The 102-year-old school now has a new heating system, but Ayers worries it will circulate construction dust throughout the building.

Ayers is also upset at what she considers a lack of communication from the school administration.

'We can never be too careful'

"There are 600 students walking the halls every day and while the students may be safe the lack of transparency is appalling," she said, adding that in September the parents' group requested a meeting with the board's health and safety staff to air their concerns. 

The TDSB sent a letter to parents of Regal Road Public School Oct. 13 announcing a meeting for next Tuesday to address thier concerns.

"Representatives will include staff from the TDSB Health and Safety Office and the project manager," the letter stated. 

Marit Stiles, the area school trustee, says the school's principal is working to make a meeting happen between parents and the Toronto District School Board's health and safety staff. (Toronto District School Board)

"As I understand it the school and board are following the proper health and safety procedures, but I understand parent concerns and I think the board needs to be more proactive, generally about providing clear information to families," Area TDSB trustee Marit Stiles said.

"We can never be too careful to protect our children and staff."

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One.