A new École JH Sissons will be built on the Yellowknife school’s existing site, abandoning the school board’s earlier plan to slightly relocate the facility.

The territorial government made the announcement in a news release on Friday, saying the decision followed a geotechnical study which pointed to the existing site as the best location.

The territory’s announcement in effect overrules last year’s recommendation by the YK1 school board to build a new JH Sissons on an alternative site, next-door to the current buildings.

Advertisement. Story continues below

At the time, in February 2018, the school board said parents had concerns about students being displaced if the current JH Sissons were knocked down to allow for rebuilding.

However, that is what will now happen, the territorial government said on Friday.

Education ‘will not be compromised’

“The study concluded that the original site, where the school currently stands, is the most viable and stable location for both current and future use,” the territory announced.

“[YK1] has developed an accommodation plan for students to move to other YK1 schools across the city for the duration of the construction. Students’ education will not be compromised; they will be a part of the school community they are moved to.”

Cabin Radio understands the study did not fully assess the school’s current site, but instead assessed all three suggested neighbouring sites. Those sites were evaluated only as ‘fair’ for construction, potentially meaning large extra costs to put suitable foundations in place – whereas the current site sits on bedrock, which is easier to build on.

Advertisement. Story continues below

The territory said Caroline Cochrane, the education minister, had accepted the study’s recommendation, and the decision had been conveyed to the school board.

As the body responsible for financing construction, the territorial government holds the final say on where and how the school is built.

A meeting for parents is planned for 7pm on Thursday, January 10, at the school.

“Now that a decision has been made to proceed with a rebuild on the existing site, the project can begin,” said the territory in its news release. “The planning study will be finalized and construction will begin in August 2020, with an expectation of a two-year construction period.”

Above capacity

Not all parents had agreed with the school board’s initial ambition to build next-door to the existing facility, with some fearing the school’s unique grounds – a vast playground area with trees and rocks – could be eradicated.

“YK1 will formally consider the results of the geotechnical study and the minister’s decision at the January 8 YK1 board meeting,” said John Stephenson, the board’s chair.

The school has stood since 1975. An original plan to retrofit the building was upgraded to a full rebuild on the basis of what the territory termed “significant wear and tear on the building and growth in the school population.”

JH Sissons, the territorial government added, is operating at 109 percent of its planned capacity.

The rebuild, as currently planned, will add four new classrooms and a larger gymnasium.

“Rebuilding on the existing site will give residents a brand-new school that will meet the needs of students long into the future,” said Cochrane in a statement.

If all goes to plan, JH Sissons will reopen in August 2022. The cost of the project will not be finalized until a bidding process is complete and a contractor chosen.

Drive our independent, northern journalism. Become a Cabin Radio patron from $1/month