Healthy School Opens in Halifax
from Citizens for a Safe Learning Environment (CASLE)

Major progress in the field of Healthy School Design and Construction is being made this week as Halifax West High School opens its doors to students for the first time.

Halifax West High School marks a huge step in progress toward new school design.  How often in the past have we heard of a new or renovated school opening to serious health complaints from fresh building materials? And how often have we heard about schools struggling with indoor air quality-related health problems due to old buildings that were built without much foresight?   "This is a new school built on time and below budget, while breaking new ground in the field of healthy school design and construction," says Karen Robinson, President of CASLE, and chair of the Department of Education's Healthy School Construction Committee that guided the healthy school mandate for this project. "The benefits to student and staff health and learning will not stop at the doors of this school."

"The Department of Education's plan to "raise the bar" from the health perspectives so as to benefit the occupants of all future new schools and major renovations in this provinceis to be commended". says Debbie Hum, Vice President of CASLE, also  serving on the Healthy School Construction Committee, and recent recipient of the Queen's Jubilee Medal,  "The short and long term benefits from building and maintaining schools with high quality indoor environments have huge cost saving value to individuals and to society as a whole by helping to ensure that our schools produce healthy and well-trained graduates. Demonstrating that healthy schools don't have to cost more to build is an important
contribution toward others following suit."

"I believe that real progress, huge progress, has been made here toward overcoming health-related problems in new schools." adds Robinson, "Many in the national & international field of healthy buildings/schools gave freely of their time and information to ensure that this committee and project had access to the most current information available on product selection, design specialties and construction methods, and so far reaction is that we have a significant accomplishment here."

A few examples of progress made through the building of this school:

1. The ventilation system exceeds industry guidelines and the building readiness evaluation used residential rather than industry standards for indoor air quality.

2. Selection of less toxic, low-particle building materials and equipment, including glues, caulks, cleaning materials and finishes. (example: The desk supplier, Ven Rez, developed a new lower-emission finish for desks and furniture.)  After completion there was an extensive offgassing "flush-out" period of several weeks, with the building, furniture and equipment offgassing and ventilation on 24 hours.

3. The gym floor was finished months early, and using less-toxic products.  This is the first time this has been achieved in NS (possibly in Canada.)  (Across the continent, new or refinished gymnasium floors routinely cause health symptoms in students and staff.  Usually, a gymnasium is left unfinished until just before school starts because it is a large space perfect for storing materials during construction.)

4.  No fossil fuels used on site, except a few bunsen burners. A water heat pump system provides heat and air conditioning.  (Leaks from combustion equipment cause many problems in existing schools.)

5. The Healthy School Construction Committee developed guidelines for use in this and other new schools and major renovations.  The guide Healthy School Design and Construction, and the draft Building Readiness Guidelines are available on the following website: Roughly 90% of the recommendations in these documents were used on Halifax West High School and are planned for use in future schools.

Strong benefits from the SST (School Steering Team) concept: Part of the
success of this school can be attributed to the Department of Education's clear recognition of the value added by involving community members and skilled organizations in a project School Steering Team.  Serving on the Halifax West SST were community members, school staff and administration, representatives from the board and city and provincial departments, and others who, along with their deep personal commitment to create the best school possible for children, brought many ideas, skills and hours of strong contribution.  They not only helped to ensure that the particular needs of the school community were well served within the budget, but they brought ideas and skill sets that might otherwise not have been available to the process. The Halifax West High School Feeder School Group, and its chair, Jane Davies, and the Halifax West School Advisory Council's chair Gary O'Hara, are outstanding examples of such community contributors.  The project never lost sight of the real reason for working so hard - the students.

The Department of Transportation and Public Works and Rideau Construction
handled the project and actual construction, along with many subcontractors who can be identified if needed.


CASLE is an eight year old information-based registered charity that works to ensure that our province's schools are safe and healthy places for children and staffs.  Much has already been accomplished, but there is still much work to do to have the products used in our schools, the practices for operation and maintenance and the condition of the school buildings be the best possible.

Related article:  Task lists for healthy school design and construction