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Most J.H. Sissons students will likely go to William McDonald Middle School while their new school is being built, according to a draft accommodation plan submitted by Yellowknife Education District No. 1.

The Yk1 board held a public meeting Tuesday night to update the public on the district’s accommodation plans.

Students at J.H. Sissons School will be dispersed to different schools within the Yk 1 Education District after the board’s decision to rebuild the school in 2017. The architecture firm Taylor Architecture Group presented a draft recommendation to the public this week on how Sissons students will fit into William McDonald Middle School, Range Lake North, N.J. Macpherson, and Sir John Franklin during the period of construction between 2020 and 2022. 
NNSL photo

Simon Taylor, owner of Taylor Architecture Group, presented the draft accommodation plan after visiting schools in the city.

The plan recommends the Sissons student population be moved to William McDonald and NJ Macpherson schools during the construction period of the 51 A Avenue school, which is expected to begin this year and continue until 2022.

The plan also recommends William McDonald Grade 8 students be sent to Range Lake North or Sir John Franklin schools during the period.

Most of the Sissons students – those from kindergarten to Grade 5 – would be sent to William McDonald Middle School, according to the plan.

The new school will accommodate 400 junior kindergarten to Grade 5 students once complete.

About 25 people attended the hour and a half long meeting at J.H. Sissons School, which included some Yk1 staff, school trustees Tina Drew, Al McDonald and Terry Brookes and parent advisory committee members from local schools.

The meeting drew far fewer members of the public than the approximately 150 people who attended a January presentation of a GNWT geo-technical study calling for the replacement school to be erected on the present J.H. Sissons School footprint.

That meeting was contentious because it was agreed by the territorial government and the Yk1 school board that students would have to be moved elsewhere in the city during construction.

The study did not recommend that the replacement school be built elsewhere on the school’s grounds so students could stay in the old school during construction.

Taylor explained that his company was hired to come up with capital estimates for accommodating students at other school locations, to review student number projections in the coming years in order to find the space to move them elsewhere and to see how materials can be relocated once an accommodation plan is reached.

The company sent a letter to the board on April 18 announcing it had completed inspections of four district schools.

“The proposed approach to relocating the students from J.H. Sissons School has some options and is, in the opinion of Taylor Architecture Group, workable with minimal academic intrusion on the lives of the J.H. Sissons students,” stated Taylor.

Taylor said the aim is to have an accommodation plan finalized and sent to Yk1 and the minister of Education, Culture and Employment by the end of May, so the board can focus on how to store teaching and library materials during the construction period.

The school board was scheduled to hold four separate public meetings this week that also included one at William McDonald School on April 24, and two separate sessions at N.J. Macpherson School and Range Lake North School, both on Thursday night.

William McDonald School

Taylor noted William McDonald Middle School is at about a 50 per cent occupancy level with 263 students. He stated that the school has room for three more classrooms, which will require some minor physical alterations to the canteen and library. His firm is also recommending four portables be built on site to take in students.

“That school (William McDonald) is designed to accommodate 450 or so students but that is packing them in and filling that school full of classrooms,” Taylor said. “What we are saying is it is our recommendation they don’t’ do that.”

Taylor said he is also recommending that the three junior kindergarten classes attend NJ Macpherson School during the construction period. This would likely lead to “a few minor capital expenditures,” such as additional washrooms and more fencing on the playground, said Taylor.

Taylor said based on his plan, 83 Grade 8 students from William McDonald would be moved to Range Lake North as part of the accommodation process.

Trustee McDonald said he was impressed by the climate of discussions in that there seemed to be more acceptance of the rebuild.

“There is a lot less anger in the room right now and we are gradually discussing options and throwing out ideas,” he said. “I think what has happened is based on parent information that we have got, we reacted to all of it and everybody is a little bit upset with some parts of the (draft) accommodation plan but no one is getting up and leaving or just about breaking down in tears the way they did in the first week.”

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Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. A through and through "County boy" from Prince Edward County, Ont., Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin...

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