Owen Sound District Secondary School cancelled exams due to the winter storm but will let students who wish to write them to do so Monday, if it’s safe to do so. The school sat empty on Thursday, January 31, 2019 in Owen Sound, Ont. Scott Dunn/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network
Scott Dunn / Scott Dunn/Sun Times
All Grey-Bruce schools were closed Thursday – prompting high schools to cancel most mandatory final exams – as the region continued to be battered by snow squalls, blowing conditions and an extreme cold.Almost every highway in the twin counties and many other roads were also closed, while numerous municipal buildings, including town halls, libraries and community centres, and businesses either didn’t open for the day or shut down early.Jamie Pettit, the Bluewater District School Board’s communications officer, said he can recall only one other time in his eight years with the board that all of its schools were closed on the same day.“This is very unusual for a decision to be made district-wide for all schools, but due to the road closures and safety concerns it was determined that they would all be closed,” he said in an interview.Along with the 43 Bluewater board schools, all 13 Bruce Grey Catholic District schools and Saint-Dominique-Savio and the Georgian College campus in Owen Sound were also closed for the day.While most high school students in Grey-Bruce were able to write Period 1 exams Jan. 28, nearly all schools postponed Tuesday and Wednesday exams due to the weather and all schools cancelled the remaining two or three exams Thursday.However, students have the option of writing exams Monday if they want a chance to improve a grade, so long as the weather co-operates.The optional exams will be cancelled if the schools are closed again, as Semester 2 is slated to begin Tuesday.“At least not in recent memory have there been this number of cancellations during exam week,” Pettit said.Snow squalls in the region have been ongoing for days, with Environment Canada reporting 61 centimetres of snow from Sunday to Wednesday at the Wiarton-Keppel airport.Both snow squall and extreme cold warnings were in effect for Grey-Bruce Thursday, with up to 15 cm of snow expected by day’s end and temperatures of -35 C with the wind chill overnight.Strong westerly winds, causing “widespread areas of blowing snow” and “significantly reduced visibilities,” according to Environment Canada, were the big problems for area roads.Conditions were expected to improve Friday thanks to slightly milder air moving into the region from the southwest.The Western Region OPP said all highways and county roads in Grey County and on the Bruce Peninsula were closed Wednesday and remained off-limits to drivers into Thursday.Bruce County and its lower-tier municipalities pulled plows off the roads Wednesday and many roads remained closed Thursday “due to high winds, blowing snow and poor visibility to absolute whiteouts.”In Owen Sound, it was all available hands on deck for the third straight day as plows worked to clear the streets of snow, ice and slush around the clock.“The biggest challenge that we’re dealing with is the snow always coming back. We get a bit of a lull and we start catching up then it snows again and we have to almost start over,” said Dennis Kefalas, the city’s director of public works and engineering.Plow operators, which have eight-hour shifts, were able to keep up with the snowfall on the busiest streets, for the most part, he said, especially the top priority ones like 10th Street and the hills.He said the city needs a good break in the weather to catch up on the sidewalks and quieter residential roads.Owen Sound Police Service Insp. Jeff Fluney said the department was advising drivers to stay off the roads during the stormy weather even if they’re staying within city limits.“Another thing to keep in mind is if you do have elderly neighbours to check on them to ensure they’re OK and have what they need until they can get out or get services to them,” he said.“And with school being off, there’s going to be children at home looking for things to do and one thing we do not want to see is children out near the edge of the roadways or near the large banks. Children sometimes build caves in the banks and this is extremely dangerous.”Fluney said there’s a room available at the police station for anyone who needs to get out of the extreme cold.Owen Sound Transit buses were not running Thursday due to poor visibility on portions of the transit routes, according to city hall. The downtown terminal closed at 1:30 p.m.Garbage and recycling trucks also didn’t run for the day and both the Miller Waste transfer station and Owen Sound recycling depot were closed.The Grey County administration building, Grey Roots museum, the Grey Bruce Health Unit, Owen Sound city hall and town halls in Georgian Bluffs, Meaford, Kincardine, West Grey, Arran-Elderslie and Grey Highlands were among the government buildings that were either not opened for the day or closed down early.The Bluewater and Catholic boards’ education centres also didn’t open for the day.