Local engineer says asbestos in AB Ellis building not a problem
Local engineer Gary Clackett is not happy about what he calls misinformation about asbestos in the former AB Ellis School. He is adamant that asbestos is not an issue and says there have been studies that back him up.
“There are issues with people who don’t understand the hazards of asbestos. The building contains asbestos, but any remaining asbestos will be removed.”
The only remaining asbestos that can’t currently be removed is between the walls.
Health Canada says there is no significant risk if materials containing asbestos are “tightly bound in products and are in good condition, sealed behind walls and floorboards, isolated in an attic or left undisturbed.”
It is only when small asbestos fibres are released into the air that they become dangerous. It can be safely removed by a qualified professional. Until then it is best left undisturbed.
Clackett says he spoke with Lindsay Liske, the trustee for the Huron Superior Catholic School Board, who confirmed that there have been structural, architectural and environmental studies done. The electrical system and plumbing have been looked at as well as the heating system. There was a problem with mould around some of the heating pipes, which would be an environmental issue, but that has been cleaned up. Structurally, the building is sound. It just needs to be brought up to code.
It is known that the heating system was updated in 2001. A portion of the building is heated by hot water, which is thermostat controlled, and forced air.
“The last report from 2014 showed no issue with the boilers.”
There is a ventilation system as well. The studies show no major issues with the building. Huron Superior has had the building inspected and determined that it is safe for the Sacred Heart students.
When it comes to the issue of parking the SABE has addressed that as well. The Rainbow District School Board has been informed that there is an alternative plan for parking, which does not include demolishing the building. There will be plenty of parking available for the Espanola High School with the AB Ellis building intact. This was brought to the attention of Robert Clement, the RDSB school trustee for this area. If the board can agree the parking issue is resolved then the area can be rezoned and the building spared.
The SABE members are also stating that the building can be repurposed without costing the local taxpayers a penny. They have looked at the process undertaken by the people that transformed a former school into the Parry Sound Hub. More than 100 pages of information on the process has been given to SABE as a blueprint to follow.
The Parry Sound group redeveloped the building and turned it into a profit making venture. Part of what they did was partner with other organizations, to assist them in the redevelopment. That is an avenue SABE also needs to explore.
The SABE group is looking at the available resources open to them to secure a partnership and protect the AB Ellis building. It is known that the classrooms are ideal for two bedroom rental units. There are 30 to 32 classrooms that can be turned into apartments. The town sorely needs senior housing. A mixture of low income units with some higher end units would go a long way to fulfilling that need. Other community groups can be brought in as well to rent some of the larger units. The Parry Sound Hub proved that repurposing a well-constructed older building can be a viable, self-sustaining option. Nobody benefits from tearing these buildings down.
There are a number of structures in both Northern and southern Ontario that have been repurposed. However, it seems that southern Ontario takes advantage of the opportunities much more often than Northern Ontario. That is something the members of SABE also want to address. There are developers living in the area. However, until the building is declared surplus nothing can be done with it. It can’t be repurposed until it has been decided not to demolish it.
It has been mentioned to the previous town council that by law there needs to be a registry of historical buildings. Preferably there should also be a heritage committee to protect these older buildings from being destroyed. The Heritage Act states, “The conservation of cultural heritage properties is vital to a community’s overall cultural and economic development plan.”
Wendy Ashton, Rhea Constantineau and Laurann Van Volkenburg were three members of the SABE group who spoke to people at the Fibre Arts Festival about the vital role the AB Ellis building has held in the Espanola community.