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Banding together

​Staff at R.B. Russell Vocational High School, WSD’s Building Department and students banded together to help the school’s Horticulture Program deal with the frozen fallout of a major power outage.

At approximately 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 13, the school had a complete power outage that affected boilers heating the building. Manitoba Hydro originally anticipated a blackout of less than an hour; but once it became apparent that the outage would be an extended one, Principal Jackie Connell started alerting her staff while WSD’s Building Department and R.B. Russell custodians dealt with the situation.

Of particular concern were the school’s hundreds of plants in the Horticulture Programs greenhouses. With the frigid temperatures outside, the greenhouses cooled down quickly. Among the valuable stock of plants were cacti that dated over 100 years old.

“We were in the process of getting propane heaters and generators, but we knew those plants had to be moved,” Ms. Connell said. 

“You could see your breath in the greenhouses. The temperature was dropping fast,” said horticulture teacher Louise Shachtay. “We did the cacti greenhouse first because that was the one that would have froze quickly. We had a system and we all worked together to clear it out.”

A quickly assembled squad of plant movers, which included Ms. Connell, Ms. Shachtay, Vice-Principal Tanis Westdal, Director of Buildings Mile Rendulic, District #1 Manager Hugh Gudmandson, teachers Mike Johnson, Mike Lindberg, Joel Anderson, Guidance Counsellor Allyson Regier, Educational Assistant Paul Clark, Community Support Worker Debbie Capitano and R.B. Russell custodians, helped with the massive plant migration.

“We eventually lost our emergency lights so we were using the flashlight apps on our phones to see—it was pitch black,” Ms. Connell said. “We looked to Ms. Shachtay for direction as to what plants needed to be moved first.”

Food in the culinary arts department also had to be moved temporarily while waiting for the power to return. The lights eventually came back on around 9:30 p.m., while the boilers were restored in the early morning hours of Dec. 14.

Classes were held as scheduled that morning, with horticulture students being enlisted to help with moving and sorting through the plants.

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“It’s such an unfortunate circumstance, but it turned into the most positive experience coming out of it, just seeing everyone come together as a team,” Ms. Westdal said.

“We take care of each other here at R.B. Russell and that’s one of the many reasons I love this place,” Ms. Connell said. “We want to give huge thanks to our custodians, the WSD Building Department and our staff for coming together like this.”

While the school is still assessing how many plants were lost altogether, Ms. Shachtay is looking at it as a teachable moment for horticulture students.
“The students learned that sometimes in business and life, unexpected things happen and you have to come together as a team to work through it.”

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