‘You guys are getting lies’: trustee lashes out at decision that will send JH Sissons students packing during rebuild

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The Yellowknife 1 Education District board of trustees has rubber stamped a territorial government recommendation to keep JH Sissons School at its current location even though that will mean students must be sent elsewhere during a two-year-long reconstruction period.

The board’s approval didn’t come without angry pushback from Terry Brookes, the longest serving trustee on the board, along with former trustee Al Shortt and two members of the Parental Advisory Committee with the school.

Terry Brookes, left, was the lone trustee to oppose a motion to support the GNWT’s recommendation to rebuild JH Sissons School at its current location. Tram Do, director of corporate services (centre), and board trustee Tina Drew listen to Brookes address the motion. Aaron Hemens/NNSL photo

Brookes was the lone trustee to oppose the motion to accept last week’s recommendation by Education Minister Caroline Cochrane and proceed with a replacement school on the same footprint as the current building in 2020. The GNWT decision came after the board asked the territorial government to complete a geotechnical survey last spring.

After a study by Taylor Architecture Group (TAG), the government concluded that replacing the school at its present location was the only option out of other possible alternatives.

A news release issued last week by the department stated the findings were based on studies of the water table height, ground stabilization and other factors.

Brookes said the geotechnical survey did not reflect what the GNWT concluded and said he was concerned that the move will prove too much of a disruption for the elementary school students.

“I have to scratch my head because I have read this thing five or six times,” said Brookes. “It doesn’t say that in here. You guys are getting lies or somebody is not telling you the truth or something like that. Somebody is pulling the wool over your head I can tell you that right now.”

All other board members decided to follow the GNWT’s decision, insisting the government is proceeding in good faith. Trustees also feared delaying the vote would have ultimately meant delaying the much-needed project and holding up other capital projects in the coming years – including the replacement of another aging school, NJ Macpherson.

Rajiv Rawat, who moved the motion to accept the government’s proposal during the meeting, pushed back at the notion that the GNWT wasn’t accurately representing the study’s findings.

“One of the things I found frustrating about this issue is that there have been mischaracterizations over findings of the architectural, infrastructural … studies,” he said. “I find these mischaracterizations really troubling because what it does – and we have heard a straight allegation of deception – is that it puts the reputations of people in our community, or people who we know or work with, in disrepute.
“It is all quite clear that the existing site is the best site and that is why (the school) was built there in the first place.”

While some parents have expressed reservations about rebuilding the school on its current location, others were not in favour of moving it. Moving the school to a different area on the school property would likely require the removal of the school’s playground and an attractive stand of trees nearby.

Board staff have begun to draft a plan to move JH Sissons students to other schools over the two-year construction period in what is called an “accommodation plan.” The draft plan and the results from the geotechnical survey will be presented at a town hall meeting on Thursday at the JH Sissons gymnasium at 7 p.m. Parents and families are welcome to attend and ask questions and provide input on plans for the school.

Note: An earlier version of this story stated that Taylor Architecture Group (TAG) was hired at a cost of more than $300,000 and that the government concluded that replacing the school at its present location was the only option out of other possible alternatives. In fact, there were several studies done related to the design and geotechnical work, and all of this work to date totals $303,759.00.  The geotechnical portion of the costs to TAG were approximately $50,000.

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Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. He came from Prince Edward County, Ont., and obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Working in Yellowknife, he covers education-based stories and general news but has also taken other beats in the past, including city hall and entertainment. He is a champion of the printed word and the importance of newspapers. As a board member of the United Way NWT and Rotary True North, he believes in the importance of civic engagement and community building. He spends his spare time with his boxer Sharona. Simon can be reached at (867) 766-8295 and editorial@nnsl.com.

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