$3,200 saga, marathon of duct tape, filters and fans

A Corsi-Rosenthal box at Sackville’s Visitor Information Centre

In its brief 10-month history, Tantramar Town Council approved projects worth tens of thousands of dollars, but has been hung up for a full month on whether to sign off on a $3,200 grant for do-it-yourself air filters to protect against viruses such as COVID-19 and the flu.

At its committee of the whole meeting on Monday, council voted to send the grant application to its next regular meeting on November 14th where it will be discussed for the fourth time.

Round One

The saga began on September 25th when Ron Kelly Spurles, manager of tourism & business development, informed council that the independent, community development organization, Renaissance Sackville, had approved a $3,200 grant application from a local group.

Kelly Spurles said that the group, called Protect Our Province, wants to continue building simple DIY air purifiers, known as Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, that consist of little more than a box fan, four heavy-duty furnace filters, duct tape and cardboard.

“They have a proposal in to make some of these for some local non-profits,” Kelly Spurles said.

Town Manager Ron Kelly Spurles answering questions on Sept. 25

“They would make them and distribute them free-of-charge and also replace some of the filters in the local non-profits that already have them and then, they also want to hold a workshop for the public where the materials will be provided where people will be able to make their own boxes.”

Kelly Spurles said Renaissance Sackville had approved the $3,200 grant out of its $25,000 annual budget subject to final approval by town council.

But he didn’t seem to know who was in the group and how non-profit organizations would apply to receive the boxes.

“Could you please tell me how many boxes can be made with $3,200?” Councillor Bruce Phinney asked.

“To be honest, I don’t know,” Kelly Spurles replied.

Council then approved a motion to consider the grant application at its next regular meeting on October 10th.

Round Two

“I just want to say that I will not be supporting this motion,” Councillor Matt Estabrooks said on October 10th.

“I asked some questions of staff,” he added, “and I don’t feel that it meets the criteria.”

Councillor Bruce Phinney

Councillor Phinney followed by saying he could not support the motion either.

“First of all, I asked questions as to who’s involved in this group.,” Phinney said, adding that he hadn’t been given any names.

He said he had no idea what these boxes are.

“When I asked how much they cost to make, I had no answers there,” Phinney added.

“It’s a group that I don’t even know what they’re all about and what they’re doing and who they are and they want me to give $3,200 of the taxpayers’ money. It’s not the way to turn around and do things.”

Councillor Debbie Wiggins-Colwell said she couldn’t support the motion, but as she began to explain why, she was reminded that under the rules of procedure, someone who moves a motion, cannot then speak against it.

(Odd as it seems, Wiggins-Colwell had actually moved the motion to approve the $3,200 grant even though she did not support it.)

Councillor Barry Hicks said he felt council needed more information.

Councillor Michael Tower agreed and moved to send the matter to council’s next meeting.

Councillors Estabrooks and Wiggins-Colwell voted no, but the rest of council approved.

Round Three 

At this week’s meeting, council heard that Mt. A. Professor David Thomas leads the group that makes the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes which cost about $120 each. The group plans to build 16 new boxes and replace the filters in 15 of the existing ones.

Mt. A. Professor David Thomas

When asked if the boxes are approved by the Canadian Standards Association, Town Engineer Jon Eppell said that the high-grade filters and other components used in the boxes are certified by the CSA.

He also suggested that the boxes provide enhanced protection against viruses and as such, meet higher air quality standards than required under existing regulations.

Councillor Estabrooks said he still didn’t feel that the project met the criteria set for Renaissance Sackville.

Councillor Tower said the group has held workshops in the past and at least three local churches are using the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes.

The discussion ended with a motion to send the grant application for approval to council’s meeting on November 14 with only Councillors Estabrooks and Phinney voting no.

Stay tuned for Round Four.

To read about the origins and effectiveness of the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, click here.

For past coverage by CHMA’s Erica Butler, click here.

This entry was posted in COVID-19, Town of Tantramar and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to $3,200 saga, marathon of duct tape, filters and fans

  1. Elizabeth Stregger says:

    One of the criteria for this grant application is the project impact and public support. Protect Our Province (also often called PoPNB) has done a great job of sharing COVID information and data in our province. The Corsi-Rosenthal boxes created by Dr. Thomas and community organizations have made it safer for immunocompromised community members to participate in community gatherings, including at the Sackville Commons. Replacing the filters in existing Corsi-Rosenthal boxes and adding more is consistent with the values of Renaissance Sackville.

    Thanks for covering this story, Bruce (and Erica).

  2. marilyn lerch says:

    You have to wonder what goes on in the minds of our Tantramar council. Dole it out to our major developer, OK a dental clinic that had offered to build low cost residential places and then backed out. But $3,200 bucks becomes a major discussion issue even though Corsi-Rosenthal has a good environmental history and Renaissance gave it a grant.

  3. Meredith Fisher says:

    Thank you for this report.
    Not to knock, in any way, a university student project but……
    Does Renaissance Sackville really still exist?
    Information on the website is really outdated and vague. A link to the Bylaws suggests it has been years since updating.
    Obviously there is a budget of $25,000 still being provided by the Town(?) to whom? for what exactly? Are there any financial reports available to the public?
    Just out of interest……
    Meredith Fisher

  4. Percy Best says:

    This certainly seems like a double approval system that is just a total waste of our Town Councillors’ time. Once the Council has approved the initial $25,000 budget for Renaissance Sackville then at least trust them to make these minor decisions on their own with the understanding that a review of their expenditures for the current year will precede ANY possible budget allotment for the following year.

    “Once bitten, twice shy” would certainly enter into the budget picture next year if proper judgement calls were not made by Renaissance Sackville, PLUS it is already overseen, I believe, by a town staff member.

    This is certainly a case of ‘Micro Management’ at its worst and Renaissance Sackville is being treated like a child that has been given a modest allowance but is not allowed to spend a penny of it without both parents’ approval for individual purchases. This is not a way to build trust. Surely our Town Council has better things to do with their time.

  5. I see that even the new town council continues to micro-manage Renaissance Sackville, as it did for the seven years that I was chair, and has kept their budget at the reduced size of $25K. It was $50K for many years. Once again, town council is too focused on bike-shedding:

  6. Jon says:

    If only council had devoted this much attention and scepticism to the question of whether a wealthy developer should get a million dollar tax subsidy for a profit making project.

  7. Wayne Feindel says:

    Council is set up on a large city model where the CEO and staff manage the City. This the exact opposite to custom in which small communities are managed by the council. More on that later. The present situation is that your only permanent committee which is committee of the whole. This is an informal gathering of council where information from the administration, select committees (developments) and from the public are batted around, before a formal recommendation to council at a regular meeting. You have no select committees that make presentations to the council committee of the whole.
    If you are using Roberts’ rules you may select, “a body of one or more persons, elected or appointed by the assembly, TO CONSIDER, INVESTIGATE, or TAKE ACTION.
    Assuming the committee was charged to do all these things.
    Depending on the charge and methods employed by the committee (SOPPADA) a brief presentation will be made to committee of the whole. .
    Let’s presume that the report asks of the applicants the following questions.
    1. Are filters helpful in small spaces
    2. What grade if filters are being used?
    3. What is the best filter grade?
    4.Is MERV 11 or 13 better?
    5 what filter classes of coarse and fine filters. MPR ratings based on sizes 0.3 to 1 microns etc.
    6. Draw backs . Will it eliminate viruses and in the home be minimal bacteria, will the release of ozone aerosols be minimal.
    Then the report from committees should contain among other things, a conclusion of the findings. Everything would be available to the committee of the whole about the kind of work that was done, etc. If it is onerous in detail, then staff may or the mayor may be called to give an “executive summary” at the beginning of the report.
    This is not happening. Knowledge is power to make decisions. Remember when the Legion was asking for more banners to be placed around the community, they would have been asked if it was O.k. to put a poppy on it before Remembrance Day. Here we are trying to commemorate men and women from the age of heroes in a time when evils were free, and not able to deliver even a question period to your fellow citizens.

  8. Rob LeBlanc says:

    The fact that the process seems to be taking a long time may be a good thing. Perhaps it will allow for folks making the proposal to reflect on the ecological footprint of this ask.

    Though these boxes contain some recyclable materials (i.e., the cardboard frames around the filters, the copper and other wiring in the fans, etc.) the way these materials are mixed with non-biodegradable and non-recyclable materials means that the ultimate destination for the components of the boxes is the landfill!

    The ecological footprint of the COVD-19 pandemic is only beginning to be understood. The question for Council (through Renaissance Sackville…or is it vice versa?) should be whether it thinks it should contribute to a COVID garbage heap that already contains millions (if not billions) of litres of hand sanitizer gels and liquids (and their plastic containers), tons & tons of surgical masks, N95s, and other improvised face coverings, latex gloves, face shields, etc., etc, all produced using fossil fuels?!

    Admittedly, $3200 is not a lot of money, and these boxes will have some minimal impact on slowing viral respiratory spread in certain, limited conditions throughout the rest of the respiratory virus season.

    But, after that season is over, all of the non-recyclable, non-biodegradable filters used to make these boxes will go to the landfill; and, within a few short years, so will the fossil fuel produced plastic box fans.

    Is the limited amount of reassurance these boxes may provide to a limited sector of the population worth this trade-off?

    If Council *is* slow-walking its decision on this proposal, perhaps those making it should use the opportunity to reflect on its merits. Are there ways to achieve the goals of PoPNB that aren’t so wasteful?

    • Jon says:

      Since we’re discussing evidence-based council decisions, do you have any evidence that “billions of litres of hand sanitizer” (which would constitute a not insignificant percentage of the annual ethanol production of the USA) have ended up in landfills? Or evidence that air filtering is of only “minimal” value in preventing respiratory infections? Or that the value of air filtering is confined to a “limited amount of reassurance” “to a limited sector of the population”?

      • Rob says:

        In order:

        -No, and thanks for pointing out my obvious hyperbole. Though I’m not certain that my use of it undermines the overall point that the hyper-production of hand sanitizers in plastic containers during the first 12 months of the pandemic has an ecologically problematic legacy that ought to be contended with instead of contributed to.

        -All indoor air filtering is of some value, especially during the respiratory virus season, but admitting this does not undermine the point that it’s ideal to balance both short term and long term safety and comfort. The boxes can be both wasteful and useful. Both things can be (and are) true.

        -Finally, yes, for better or worse, it’s become clear over roughly the last 12 months that the pandemic has animated a small segment of the population that will be unsatisfied until the risk of viral respiratory spread indoors reaches zero, or near zero. Like their counterparts in the COVID-denialism/conspiracy/free-dummy community, it’s important to apply scrutiny when this small population seeks to influence public policy decisions.

  9. Tim Reiffenstein says:

    These are the sorts of projects that Renaissance Sackville should be funding. Who doesn’t want better indoor air quality? Sackville punches way above its weight in non-profit organization generation and vitality. As many of our councillors know, non-profits, operating on a shoestring and guided by the energy of our neighbors, make life better in Tantramar. This proposal is designed to make the spaces where non-profits convene safer as we move into the winter. The proposal also builds community capacity. As others have said, several councillors seem to be stirring up trouble for no good reason or are, unfortunately, ignorant about their roles.

    Big hats-off to Dr. Dave Thomas.

  10. “The U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development’s 3,000 cubic ft. bioaerosol chamber testing results show that the CR box removes 97% of infectious aerosols in just 30 minutes, and 99.4% within 60 minutes. Importantly, the device successfully captures a surrogate virus for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”— 2023-10-30


    • Janet Hammock says:

      I want one! What a bunch of “—“ was my thought as I waded through the article and comments this morning. So many, many people involved in this project, including those who have offered enlightening commentary here, from Dr. Thomas to Harold Jarche, must be shaking their heads in utter disbelief and frustration at the long debate taking place at Council. Unreal. As other writers have realized and pointed out, it is the lack of a clear, easy to understand process, that is the root cause of all this useless dithering, which costs us taxpayers $$. Why not fix the process so you don’t have to spend ages reinventing the wheel again and again?

  11. Percy Best says:

    So where are all the young budding entrepreneurs here in Tantramar that could put these very simply constructed air cleaners together in a jiffy and sell them at the Farmer’s Market, or on the local FB Buy and Sell, or at an organized yard sale, or anywhere in this glorious town of ours.

    Or what a very easy way to raise funds for one of the many groups located here. I don’t understand what is holding people back.

    At least, to this ‘Old Timer’, it looks a lot easier than trying to construct and install a new kitchen cabinet system.

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