OTTAWA -- A school board in the capital has collected its 3D printers from their shuttered schools and setup a print-shop to help frontline staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staff members are creating plastic headbands for face shields and mask clips in an effort to ease the shortage of personal protective equipment for frontline medical staff across Ottawa.

In the cafeteria at the Ottawa Catholic School Board headquarters, the sound of clinking cutlery and conversation has been replaced by the hum of dozens of 3D printers.  The now make-shift print shop is producing hundreds of headbands for face shields and mask clips, necessary medical equipment that front-line medical staff are in desperate need of.

In the “shop” are three board staff members; two teachers and board superintendent Debbie Frendo, volunteering their time. They are discussing production and how many more units they will be able to produce and deliver to the University of Ottawa.

“As soon as this happened and we heard there was a shortage of personal protective equipment we had our teachers and our principals looking to see what was in their schools that could be donated,” says Frendo.

Every high school has at least one large 3D printer, elementary schools have smaller ones. They collected the printers and got in contact with uOttawa Makerspace engineers, who are building protective equipment for medical workers, and downloaded their blueprints for the headbands and started printing.

So far the OCSB has delivered 198 units to uOttawa, where they finish the headgear by adding the laser-cut clear face shield. The items are then distributed to area hospital care centres, hospices and other facilities in Ottawa, including the Shepherds of Good Hope.

“There's a shortage in the city,” says Frendo. “We are a community member.  One of our board priorities is community and we take that to heart we are part of the community and we got to do everything we can to help the situation that we find ourselves in.”

When the call was put out for staff to volunteer their time maintaining and monitoring the printers, the response was overwhelming.  Currently, there are ten staff members working to ensure the equipment is printing out properly, one of those volunteers is tech teacher Natalie Wainwright. She’s familiar with the printers because she teaches her students how to use them.

Wainwright is still teaching, working from home, helping her classes with the Ontario Distance Learning Program while the schools are closed. She comes to the print shop a few times a week to help, clean and reload the printers with plastic filament.

“To have printers from our schools here and printing things that are going to be used by medical community is really important to us during this stressful time,” Wainwright says. “I'm working with my students still every day but this is really nice to come in and help with something that will be directly helping our frontline care workers”.

The board hopes to be able to print more than 250 headbands per week. They have also started printing mask clips, plastic devices that go on the back of your head, so the elastics from face masks do not rub against ears when wearing them all day.  They have two varieties, one traditional and another with a hole for ponytails.

The OCSB plans to continue production and delivery of the items as long as the demand is needed.