Class moved because of dead rat

The stench from a decomposing rat was so strong a special education class at New Westminster secondary had to be moved to another floor Tuesday.

Parent Wendy Harris said she was told staff at the Foundations of Success program refused to teach the class because of the odour. An investigation revealed a dead rat was inside the walls. She also noted it was the same room where asbestos was found by workers several years ago.

Harris, past-chair of the district parent advisory council (DPAC), has a son in the Foundations of Success program. She said the incident, which was confirmed to her by the school, must have been horrifying for students and staff. Rodents at NWSS have been on her radar for a long time.

“It’s a huge problem, huge problem,” said Harris. “I have seen rats going into the building in different areas. I haven’t seen them going into that particular wing.”

Harris said rats have been chewing electrical wires at the school for a long time.

“There’s just more and more damage being done.”

DPAC chair Rob Peregoodoff wrote on the organization’s website that it would be formally requesting a megometer test to determine the state of the electrical wires, “given that we have to assume the rats are chewing the wires, thereby making an extreme fire hazard.”

The ultimate solution is to build a new school, but the earliest that’s going to happen is 2016, said Harris. “That’s four years away, and it might even be longer than that. These are the conditions we’re putting them in. This is their environment on a daily basis.”

Neither NWSS principal Mary Bushman nor Doug Templeton, district director of facilities and operations, returned messages from the NewsLeader prior to its deadline.

New Westminster Teachers’ Union president Grant Osborne said Wednesday he hadn’t heard directly from any of his members about Tuesday’s incident, but he wasn’t surprised because there’s been a rodent problem at NWSS for a long time.

“If it’s identified as a health and safety issue they are obligated to deal with it,” said Osborne. “It’s a problem that needs to be addressed. When teachers come in and see rat droppings around their keyboards and desks, you don’t want to see that.”

Eight years ago, when he was a vice-president of the union, Osborne did a report on the problem at NWSS.

“It’s an old building. It’s got a huge array of tunnels underneath it. I refer to it as a Club Med for rodents. It’s warm, it’s dry and there’s no predators. It’s a good place for rodents to hide. It’s a pretty nice environment for them,” said Osborne.

CUPE president Marcel Marsolais, whose members include custodial staff that would have had to deal with the problem and educational assistants at NWSS, said rodents are common in old schools.

“I don’t feel it’s any worse than any other school in the district or the region when you talk about old schools,” he said, adding if there’s a health issue it needs to be dealt with.

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