As cleaners expunge odour, classes resume in half a dozen different locations

Smell scatters students all over Iqaluit


Something stinks in Nakasuk School in Iqaluit, but elementary students and teachers have made the best of it this week, as classes resumed in a half-dozen locations around town while experts investigated the building's mysterious smell.

As of Nunatsiaq News press time this week, no confirmation could be offered as to when the school would re-open, or what was the source of the musty odour that caused Nakasuk to close on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

This much is known: the smell is believed to originate from the building's crawl space, where a pool of water has collected due to a spill during the Christmas holidays.

Mold covers the plywood walls of the crawl space, and is being removed by clean-up crews this week.

But there was no sewage leak, contrary to radio reports, said Larry Gordon, manager of technical support for the Government of Nunavut's department of Community and Government Services.

A sewage pipe did freeze, he said, but it never broke, and was thawed without being opened.

Gordon said there's also no evidence that whatever is in the crawl space has contaminated the rest of the building. But, to be safe, the entire building will be thoroughly cleaned.

The school closed about a week after some students and staff first complained about the smell. Some said they had trouble breathing. Others said their eyes stung.

The Workers Compensation Board visited Jan. 23 and ordered the building shut. Classes were cancelled for the week.

By Friday it became clear the school wouldn't re-open soon. Teachers didn't want their students to miss more classes, principal Carol Horn said, since January is considered peak time for teaching, because "it's too cold for kids to play outside."

So teachers and staff needed to quickly pack up everything they needed in order to teach elsewhere, from textbooks to snacks for the breakfast program. "Our janitors basically became delivery men," Horn said.

Parents volunteered to help shuttle kids around and organize activities. And the department of education gave the school enough money to hire eight elders to help teach classes in the new venues.

Some classes ended up in other Iqaluit schools. Others ended up in the Arctic Winter Games arena, where, on Tuesday, students broke into small groups to listen to visiting elders explain how to cut up Arctic char, play string games, and use the marrow from caribou bones to make candles.

In the high school, Horn said senior art students became teachers for the day for the visiting elementary students.

And some students who take the bus learned a new word: "transfer." First they hop on a bus that takes them to the Parish Hall. Then they need to transfer to another bus, that takes them to where their class is held.

Despite the inconvenience the closing has caused kids and parents, Horn says she's been overwhelmed by community support. "It's been incredible," she said.

One parent, who manages a cab company, even lent her a vehicle, after Horn's car broke down, so she can watch students as they board the buses each morning.

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