Close to 150 people, including parents, educators, board trustees and other local politicians packed the JH Sissons School gymnasium Thursday night during a town hall meeting on replacing the school.
The meeting was held to provide the community the results from a geotechnical survey conducted over the past year which informed the decision by the territorial government to rebuild the school in the exact location where aging building stands today. The meeting also focused on initial plans by Yellowknife Education District No. 1 to disperse the 300-plus Sissons student population to other schools within the district during the construction period. Attendees heard that the project is expected to take place between 2020 and 2022 and will lead to an enlarged school with additional classrooms for 400 students from JK to Grade 5.
The meeting followed the board of trustees’ controversial decision Tuesday night to accept the GNWT’s recent recommendation to rebuild the school on the footprint of JH Sissons.
At the meeting, longtime Yk1 trustee Terry Brookes suggested the GNWT was lying when stating the geotechnical survey indicated that building the school on its original footprint was the best option.
That option — instead of building another school near the existing one — means Sissons students will have to be moved elsewhere during reconstruction.
Brookes remained silent as government officials explained their interpretation of survey results.
Leading the town hall meeting were Caroline Cochrane, minister of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE), John Stephenson, Yk 1 board chair, Metro Huculak, superintendent of YK 1, Kevin McLeod, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Infrastructure and Sylvia Haener, deputy minister of ECE. Also in attendance were Laura Gareau, assistant deputy minister of ECE, deputy minister of ECE, John MacDonald, assistant deputy minister of ECE, Mira Dunn, special advisor to Cochrane, along with several YK 1 board trustees. Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green and Cory Vanthuyne, MLA for Yellowknife North were also in attendance.
McLeod provided an overview of the findings from geotechnical studies, including a survey from the past year that informed the GNWT decision over two other options on the property. He presented information about the bore hole drilling, soil examination and water drainage inspection and some of the consideration taken in the study.
The biggest problem from much of the property, based on drilling up to 14 holes, was the high water table and ancient, sand-silt conditions of much of the soil -similar to a river- within five feet of the ground-level he said. As a result, the ground is suspected to be highly water-logged possibly pooling in areas underneath.
“What we did find in terms of high risk was a very high water table,” he said. “As an engineer, water is an enemy.”
He said the survey also took into consideration cost options of rebuilding, partially renovating or completely renovating. The study also reviewed input from parents and families from a 2018 online survey that touched on the desire of many residents to use and retain the natural features of the property, including improved parking and circulation, the retention of the sliding hill, space for an outdoor classroom or amphitheatre and stand of trees that would have to be removed if the school was rebuilt outside of its current footprint.
“The final report concludes that while it is feasible to construct on any of the three sites, construction on the existing site is the recommended option due to cost and site implication issues,” noted McLeod in his presentation. The department has concluded that to serve students for the next 50 years, the current location is simply the best of three options explored, he added.
Huculak’s draft accommodation plan, which began in the fall with input from district principals, offered numerous scenarios in a chart showing where various grade levels could go over the next five years and during the course of construction. He said the process for developing a final plan will continue with community input over the next 14 months.
“We are hoping by March break of next year we will have the plan so that parents will know where students will be accommodated,” Huculak said.
Several parents with students in Sissons and William McDonald Middle School — where many Sissons students are expected to go — expressed concerns about moving students to other schools, particularly if it meant moving younger children into the middle-age school.
The GNWT Department of Education, Culture and Employment put up a page for parents and families on Friday so that they can follow updates on the school’s construction. The page includes the geotechnical report conducted by Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions; the board’s draft student accommodation plan; and a Questions and Answer document.