Castlegar fire chief Sam Lattanzio was called to a suspected gas leak at Castlegar Primary School April 15. Photo: John Boivin

Castlegar fire chief Sam Lattanzio was called to a suspected gas leak at Castlegar Primary School April 15. Photo: John Boivin

Teachers worried after 12 gas leaks in 3 months at B.C. elementary school

School district insists students and staff not at risk, despite a dozen incidents in three months

A series of gas leaks at Castlegar Primary School over a number of months has turned into a saga that has kept School District 20 maintenance workers busy and left the local teachers’ union frustrated.

FortisBC says it has been called to the school 12 times in the last three months, but problems with reoccurring gas smells and gas equipment go farther back than that. School district reports indicate a string of incidents dating back at least a year.

Persistent problems

It started in spring 2018 when a teacher was worried that kids could climb on an outdoor gas meter at the school.

In December of that same year, the first smell of gas was reported.

Emergency services were called, the school was evacuated and a gas bleed valve was determined to be the cause of the smell.

In January 2019, there were three reports of natural gas smells.

In the three months that followed, another incident was reported each month.

Some incidents had a cause – a regulator, a leaky main valve and HVAC units – but others didn’t seem to.

RELATED: No source found for gas leak at Castlegar school

A report states that as the investigation progressed and formal witness statements were gathered, more occurrences were identified and there had been reports over many years of concerns about gas smells.

“As we began to investigate, it was reported that: ‘It has always been like this. We have always smelled natural gas off and on for over 10 years,’” school district manager of safety and wellness Julie Cole said.

Cole has only been on the job for about two years, and the position is new, so she says she doesn’t know why those earlier incidents weren’t reported and recorded.

Cole says the fact the building is over 50 years old and also has aging equipment is a major part of the problem.

The lack of consistent reporting and inspections are also cited in the report as contributing causes. Communication issues and lack of training were cited as “substandard conditions.”

SD20 says it is not sure how many times gas leaks have been detected because consistent records were not kept.

Regardless, the situation is now so uncertain the vice-principal has been wearing a gas monitor for the last three to four months.

Cole says since the supervisor is in and out of the building all day and in all areas of the building, the district thought it was a good way to detect any leaks that may have been missed.

Because the leaks have been so intermittent, the district plans to continue using the monitor until the end of the school year.

“If there is any indication the building is not safe, we want to address it,” said Cole.

Union concerns

The Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union became concerned enough about the situation that they asked regulating authorities to look at the problem.

“We are very concerned about the numerous gas leaks,” said union president Andy Davidoff. “The orders from WorkSafe and Technical Safety BC point to equipment that isn’t up to code, and processes with respect to reporting that are not being followed in accordance with WorkSafe regulations and that is very concerning for us.

In March, the school failed an inspection from Technical Safety BC, the group in charge of overseeing the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment

Modulating gas valves had been added to the HVAC units at the school and the district was ordered to remove them from any building where “modulating valves may have been added to any appliance that is not certified to operate with these valves.”

Problems with the school’s boiler were also cited as well as issues with rough piping. The district was ordered to inspect all gas piping and appliances at the school and to repair as needed. They were also ordered to paint all of the black iron gas pipe on the exterior of the building.

The order stated that all appliances should be serviced yearly at the minimum and repaired immediately should any issues be found.

But FortisBC and the school district assert the building is safe. But Davidoff says with the number of leaks and FortisBC visits to the site, doubts about safety have crept in.

“It is stressful for everyone at Castlegar Primary,” he said. “We do not want to be alarmist … but there is obviously something wrong when you have this number of gas leaks … It is the uncertainty that is very concerning.”

With so many incidents, union wonders why it took their complaints to bring in outside help.

The findings of WorkSafeBC cited “incidents with high potential for serious injury,” reporting and record keeping.

Modifications for the district’s inspection report forms were ordered, and Cole says they will roll out a new safety software system by the start of the new school year. There will be a switch from a paper-based system to a digital system with all records, investigation reports and related documents in one spot.

The union also wants to ensure that anyone can report a gas leak. Currently, a teacher must tell a supervisor who will then call 911 and FortisBC.

Davidoff worries that now, if a supervisor isn’t on site then there’s nothing a teacher can do.

“It’s inappropriate,” said Davidoff.

Parent communication concerns

The teachers union is worried that parents didn’t hear about the gas leaks until one of the last incidents in April – and even then, Davidoff said it was only with the union’s insistence.

The letter references “nuisance” smells and states the detection of the smell of natural gas at Castlegar Primary has been ongoing, with several such occurrences over the last number of weeks.

It lists the different inspections that have occurred at the site, but does not include detailed findings of those inspections or a list of repairs that have been made.

Davidoff remains concerned about the district’s response.

“This is no longer a safe school issue — it is about the absolute lack of process in terms of how reports are filed, the ongoing leaks, in terms of downplaying what a gas leak is — calling it a nuisance,” he said.

“It is about not getting full disclosure to parents.”

Training and maintenance plans

Cole says the district is working on providing consistent health and safety training for all its employees and will roll out specific training modules in September. Training sessions will look at safety issues specific for each building, incident investigation procedures, hazard identifications, risk assessments and other related topics.

Cole says there has not been a formal schedule in place and maintenance was more on a basis of dealing with issues as they arose but that the district will set one up.

Davidoff hopes the saga with gas leaks at the school is over and his members can begin to feel safe in their work place again.

Ideally, the union would like to see the government tear the 52-year-old school down and build a new one, he says, but they realize that is probably many years in the future.

READ THE FULL STORY: Repeated gas leaks at Castlegar Primary raise concerns



betsy.kline@castlegarnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed Eli Beauregard facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Asia Youngman (right) is pictured shooting another short film she wrote and directed titled Hatha. (Luba Popovic)
Peachland set to star in fantasy thriller film about N’xaxaitk’w — a.k.a. the Ogopogo

The film will follow an Indigenous teen as she navigates peer pressure, bullying and identity

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

Earls On Top at 211 Bernard Avenue in Kelowna. (Google Maps photo)
Downtown Kelowna’s Earls ordered closed after COVID-19 transmission

Earls on Top on Bernard Avenue will be closed from June 18 to June 27

Danny Fulton receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 27. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Drop-in COVID-19 vaccine clinic planned for Kelowna

Clinic at Kelowna Secondary School from June 22 to 24 from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Jeanette Megens
KCR: Volunteering is sharing your story

Kelowna Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Starting in 2022, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District is extending dog control to the entire Electoral Area D. (Stock photo)
Dog control bylaw passes in Shuswap area despite ‘threatening’ emails

CSRD board extending full dog control in Electoral Area D starting next year

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Most Read