Students during recess in the playground of Yellowknife's École JH Sissons. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The territorial government has begun preparations for the demolition of Yellowknife’s École JH Sissons School.
JH Sissons’ current main building is to be demolished in 2020 to make way for a new facility at the same site. The NWT government made that decision in January after receiving the results of a study examining three possible sites.
The school’s 350 students are to be moved from the school between 2020 and 2022, under the current plan.
A request for proposals issued by the territorial government this month begins the demolition process by seeking a contractor to inspect the building for hazardous materials and prepare a plan to demolish it.
Asbestos is already known to be a concern within the present JH Sissons building.
A 2018 report by consultants Associated Environmental, prepared for the YK1 school board, declared 15 of 19 samples taken by the consultants had tested positive for asbestos.
Areas suspected to contain asbestos range from insulation and flooring materials to window putty and parts of the roofing.
Lead paint concentrations on some handrails and floors were also a concern for the consultants, while a range of lights inside JH Sissons also contain mercury.
Asbestos is considered dangerous because inhalation of the material’s fibres can cause serious or fatal illnesses. However, it often does not pose a threat if left undisturbed.
Its use in buildings such as the school in question was commonplace until the 1980s.
The territory’s request for proposals seeks a qualified company to carry out more sampling of the building for hazardous materials; prepare a plan of attack for making those materials safe, with a cost estimate; then provide specifications for the building’s safe demolition.
After that, the territory will separately hire a contractor to make the hazardous materials safe and conduct the demolition.
The NWT government expects to award that latter contract by March 2020, according to a timeline printed in the request for proposals.
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, the territory said in January a geotechnical study had concluded “the original site, where the school currently stands, is the most viable and stable location for both current and future use.”
How JH Sissons’ students will be accommodated among YK1’s other schools has yet to be finalized.
The Department of Infrastructure said if construction takes longer than expected, students may end up moving into the new school in phases as areas are completed.
At the moment, JH Sissons is reported to be operating at 109 percent of its planned capacity. The new school is expected to open in August 2022.