Ventilation system fails in N.B. Housing building in midst of heat wave

·3 min read
Stephenson Tower, in Saint John's north end, as seen from the air.  (Google Earth - image credit)
Stephenson Tower, in Saint John's north end, as seen from the air. (Google Earth - image credit)

More than halfway through the summer, Cathy McCollum wonders how much longer it'll take for the ventilation system in her public housing building in Saint John's north end to get fixed.

She said temperatures inside her ninth-floor apartment are sweltering.

"Right now, it's sickening … You wake up soaking, wringing wet. You got fans going. Old people are going out to buy air conditioners," she said.

McCollum, 61, said she can't afford to buy a window-mounted air conditioner for her one-bedroom apartment, and isn't sure many of the other residents can either.

She lives in Stephenson Tower, an 11-storey, 100-unit apartment building owned by N.B. Housing, which falls under the Department of Social Development.

McCollum thought the building was equipped with air conditioning, but an official with Social Development said it has an air exchange system which "circulates fresh air from outside and pushes out stale indoor air." The common areas are ventilated and each apartment unit has a vent, said Rebecca Howland, a spokesperson for the department.

Mia Urquhart/CBC
Mia Urquhart/CBC

McCollum said whatever the cooling system is for the building, it hasn't been operational for the last couple of weeks.

She said officials have told her the issue will be resolved soon.

"It's been too long. Like, this is August now. Before we know it, we're not going to need [it]," said McCollum.

In an emailed statement sent Thursday afternoon, Howland said a contractor was at Stephenson Tower on Thursday morning to look at the ventilation system.

"The contractor has determined that the exhaust motor needs repair. They are now sourcing a replacement part," wrote Howland.

"Staff from Social Development will check in on tenants until the repair is completed. The department understands the urgency to get this repaired as quickly as possible, however there is no timeline on when it will be completed."

McCollum said the issue is particularly troublesome this week, when much of the province has been under a heat warning.

Standing in a neighbour's apartment on Thursday afternoon, the thermometer showed 32 C — on a day when persistent fog and clouds kept the external temperature to the low 20s.

"This is a government building, and as far as I'm concerned, a government building should be cooled air," said McCollum.

She said the upper floors get particularly hot, but she counts herself lucky to get a bit of a breeze through the window. A fan helps circulate the air, but not all apartments get a breeze, she said, especially those on the opposite side of the building.

Public health warnings

With heat warnings issued for much of the province for much of the week, the province's chief medical officer of health said it's important to check on vulnerable people, like the elderly and those without access to air conditioning.

Dr. Jennifer Russell said it's important to stay out of the sun and try to seek out a cool place.

"And if you don't have access to a cool place, keep taking cool showers and baths and make sure you're wearing light clothing and drinking lots of water."

With humidex values expected to make it feel like 40 C in some areas of the province, Russell said residents shouldn't "underestimate the severity of what heatstroke can do to a person."

Environment Canada issued heat warnings for the Fredericton and Moncton regions, the Sussex and Kennebecasis Valley region, and the St. Stephen area, as maximum temperatures could reach as high as 32 C. With the humidex, that could feel more like 36 C to 40 C.

"Heat warnings are issued when very high temperature or humidity conditions are expected to pose an elevated risk of heat illnesses, such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion," Environment Canada said in the public alert.

"Watch for the effects of heat illness: swelling, rash, cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and the worsening of some health conditions."

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