The town of New Carlisle on Quebec's Gaspé peninsula is getting a new English school almost a year after a report exposed the presence of asbestos, mould, mildew and lead pipes in the current building.
The new school will have the capacity to welcome 145 students, from preschool to Grade 11. Jonatan Julien, the minister responsible for the Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, announced on Friday that the province will provide $32 million for the project.
"This is a very exciting day," said Wade Gifford, chair of the Eastern Shores School Board. "At last, after a huge amount of effort from different people, we have managed to get what will be the most exciting news you've heard in a long time."
The announcement was, indeed, well received by the town's English-speaking community.
"The kids deserve this new school, they need a fresh new look with everything that [they] have gone through," said Cindy Carney, whose son attends Grade 8 at the school. "We're really looking forward to it."
School principal Ian Gilker said he was very excited that the government had agreed to invest in the education of New Carlisle children. "To know that people are aware of what our needs are and they're attending to them — it's great," he said.
New Carlisle High School was built in the centre of the town in 1914.
The building slowly deteriorated over time, until the health hazards became so dire that the school board shut it down for emergency renovations last December .
But even after it reopened a few months later, Carney said she couldn't help feeling worried about her child. With plastic sheets on the walls of some rooms and hallways, it "kind of looked a little bit like a haunted house," she said.
Years of unsafe conditions
The board had been advocating for a new school for years, said director general Hugh Wood. He said they applied for funding multiple times but were unsuccessful until this year.
The school board commissioned a building inspection last year, in the hopes it would help them make their case for a new space.
When engineering consultants from Groupe Gesfor examined the school, they found that the ambient carbon dioxide levels exceeded the government's maximum threshold for safe exposure in nearly half of the rooms they surveyed.
Eighty-four students had to be relocated because of poor air quality.
Carney, who also chairs the school's governing board, said she felt uneasy when she heard how bad the situation was. "When your kids are in a school, you hope it's safe and hope it's secure," she said. "The numbers were a little scary for what our kids were breathing in."
That's a worry she soon won't have. Construction is set to start next fall, and should be completed by August 2024.
"The kids are very excited about it, the staff are excited about it, the community's excited about it," said Wood, who added that the board was very happy it could finally offer a modern and bright learning environment for the students.