J.H. Sissons School replacement will take longer than hoped

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Two weeks after YK1 trustees agreed on a plan to build the new J.H. Sissons School on the property but off of the current footprint, the GNWT declared the project’s funding will not be included in the 2019-2020 capital budget, meaning the original school will stay as-is for the foreseeable future.

“There will be a new school,” said Yk1 superintendent Metro Huculak. “Exactly when that school will be built now … I don’t think we have a clear plan.”

On Wednesday the Education Culture and Employment department (ECE) confirmed the geotechnical surveys and property assessments on the J.H. Sissons school property will begin in May or June, which means the budget for building a new school will not be considered for approval in October.

Given the delays building away from where the school currently stands, Huculak said he is not surprised with the board’s announcement.

Tamlin Gilbert, left, along with other concerned Yellowknife Education District No. 1 parents confront board member Terry Brookes after a decision was made Feb.20 to build the new J.H. Sissons school off of the original school’s site.      Michael Hugall/NNSL photo

“I doesn’t look like it will be approved in October because of the processes the government now has to go through in order to finalize the budget,” said Huculak. “I’m not used to the kind of hoops that are needed to jump through in order to get a project like this one, completed.”

In an email on Wednesday ECE communications manager Jacqueline McKinnon stated the study and assessment of the property will determine the GNWT’s ability to build the school successfully and will also give them a better understanding of the finances needed to complete the project.

“The department anticipates having this work complete for the for 2020-2021 capital planning process,” said McKinnon. “At which time it will be assessed and prioritized among all the other capital needs of the GNWT.”

After surveys and assessments the GNWT will still need to consult the department of infrastructure and other contractors for estimates on costs.

YK1 board chair John Stephenson said he understands the GNWT wants to make sure it plans for the future as it replaces the oldest school in the territory.

“I really believe the GNWT is supportive of what we are trying to do. It’s them, not the parents who are pushing for this new school,” said Stephenson. “Parents just see Sissons as a building where their kids learn, but the government acknowledges Sissons as the oldest school in the territory and wanted to recommend the best approach to build it.”

During a special meeting Feb. 20, the board made its decision on a recommendation on where to build the new J.H. Sissons School.

Trustee Terry Brookes passed the motion to build a new Sissons school on the current property but off of where it stands. The motion was then approved with a 4-3 vote.

It was one of four options recommended by ECE and Taylor Architectural Group.

The GNWT and the architects were in agreement that building on-site was the best possible action to take, as Brookes mentioned he believed the process to conduct surveys would take three weeks, followed by property assessments.

Building off the current footprint also allows the district to keep students on Sissons grounds instead of dispersing them to other schools throughout the city for two years.