Mangilaluk School in Tuktoyaktuk. Luisa Esteban/Cabin Radio
With Tuktoyaktuk’s $30-million school renovation once again delayed, the community’s MLA is asking why portable classrooms he says were promised have not been delivered.
In an exchange in the Legislative Assembly last Thursday, Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson said the delayed work on Mangilaluk School was a “total fail” and suggested cabinet promised him two portables in the spring.
Finance minister Caroline Wawzonek said no portables had ever been on the way.
The Department of Infrastructure and education officials had looked into whether sending portables was feasible but was written off “for a number of reasons,” Wawzonek said.
In March, infrastructure minister Diane Archie told Jacobson there were no spare portables that could be deployed to the community and the GNWT had no budget to purchase any more.
Jacobson, though, says he received a commitment from cabinet for two portable classrooms after initially advocating for four.
“That’s the first time it ever happened to me in the Legislative Assembly since I was first elected in 2007 – the first time, the first go-around, that any minister that promised me something that fell through. I’m really disappointed,” he said, adding had done the work himself to source land and portables for Tuktoyaktuk.
“We were so close … I want those two trailers. Find it somewhere in regards to this money,” he said, as MLAs studied capital spending plans for the year ahead.
Wawzonek agreed construction delays in Tuktoyaktuk have been frustrating. She said they have been in part caused by external circumstances, like the global pandemic that started soon after the contract was awarded and, more recently, this summer’s evacuation of Yellowknife due to wildfires. She also blamed a “difficult contract with the contractor that was in place.”
Over the summer, the minister said, steps were taken “to try to bring greater oversight to the delivery of the project,” including instating a new project manager.
In the spring, school renovations were still scheduled to be complete by the start of the 2023-24 school year. However, that timeline was pushed back after the three-week evacuation of Yellowknife, which is a hub for supplies and contractors.
Wawzonek insisted the territory would be watching to see if the contractor could meet the revised timelines.
The finance minister said a revised schedule now shows the gym and other facilities should be ready by the “middle of this fall.” Since the school is nearly ready – and since there is no budget for additional portables – she confirmed Tuktoyaktuk won’t be getting any.
The lack of portable classrooms, Jacobson said, makes the school unsafe for students.
“They’re going to have kids going to school in a construction site,” he said. “The youth in my community, of Mangilaluk School, deserve no less than here, no less than anywhere across our territory.”
Last week, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby asked if the federal government would be likely to provide any funding to help upgrade or replace other schools – noting what she called a “school infrastructure deficit” across the territory.
“I don’t need a crystal ball on this one,” said Wawzonek. “I can tell you the answer and that the federal government doesn’t typically provide funding for schools.”
Wawzonek said the federal government instead provides funding for roads and other “traditional” infrastructure, leaving the GNWT to fund schools – though she agreed with Nokleby that more investment in education might help to solve many other social issues.