Emelie Peacock/NNSL photo
Principal Rachell Simmons stands outside of J.H. Sissons School on May 17. Built in 1975 and never renovated, Simmons said Sissons is long overdue for major reconstruction.

J.H. Sissons School, a facility considered mostly urgently in need of repairs in the territory, will soon undergo a planning study to prepare for possible renovations in the next few years.

The territorial government is requesting tenders from potential bidders, the first step in an extensive renovation of the building.

Built in 1975, the Yellowknife Education District No. 1-operated school at 51 Avenue and Forrest Drive has never been renovated. The school has capacity for 314 students from pre-kindergarten to Grade 5.

Rachell Simmons, principal at J.H. Sissons, said teachers do a great job with the space they’re given, yet renovations are sorely needed.

“This school is overdue, definitely, for a reno. The school was never built to accommodate the technology and demand on power that we as a society have developed a need for,” she said.

The aging infrastructure creates some challenges for those who use the building, said Simmons. Students and visitors with mobility issues can only enter the school through the back door, around the school from the parking lot. Staff must be on hand as well, to open the back doors.

The school cannot use its stage area for assemblies and concerts, as panels in the stage area are old and have been blocked off as a safety precaution. Assemblies are now held in the gym, which Simmons says also needs to be renovated to be able to hold two classes at once. The electrical capacity of the school is another major issue. With smartboards in every classroom the schools breakers are at full capacity.

The request for proposal documents state the building and many parts of it are nearing the end of their service life. The goal of renovations would be to extend the service life of the building for another 25 years, as well as make the building energy efficient.

According to a 2010 technical evaluation conducted by the Department of Public Works and Services, the building requires extensive renovations to the roof, as well as electrical and mechanical system renovations. The report states the exterior walls and windows are “at the end of their useful service life” and should be replaced, along with the roof, to bring the building up to thermal and moisture protection standards and make it more energy efficient.

The report further states samples taken from piping in the mechanical and boiler rooms indicate the presence of asbestos is likely. Lovely said this is not a concern for the current users of the school, however.

Olin Lovely, assistant deputy minister of corporate services for the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, said the school is one of the department’s highest priority projects in the NWT.

“Any school that is that old will have asbestos in it, it is only an issue when you’re doing renovations,” he said.

The department could not provide a cost for the planning study as the project is in an open tender process, said Lovely.

The RFP states renovating the school is estimated to cost half of what building a new school could cost. Lovely estimates replacing J.H. Sissons could cost anywhere between $20 and $50 million.

Yk1 considered closing the school three years ago but an outcry from parents put pressure on school trustees to keep it open. Renovation estimates at the time put the figure at around $18 million.

The planning study will be the first step toward renovations. Once the plan is complete it will be submitted to the GNWT’s capital planning process next year. Depending on how high a priority the school is deemed to be, it could be included in the capital plan.

During renovations, the school will close for up to a year and a half.

While Yk1 superintendent Metro Huculak said the school board has yet to discusse where students will go in the interim, he said space will be available at William McDonald Middle School and hopefully at Mildred Hall School as well.

Huculak said the school is still safe for students.

“There’s no safety issues,” Huculak said. “We’re kind of waiting for the renovation to do a complete maintenance job on it.”

The planning study is meant to help the education department prepare construction cost estimates and an overall project budget for the renovations. The deadline to submit proposals is June 2. The final planning study is expected to be finished by January 2018.