A group of parents have asked the GNWT to reconsider plans to demolish J.H. Sissons school so there can be more space to meet physical distancing protocols when school resumes in the fall. Blair McBride/NNSL photo
The planned demolition of J.H. Sissons school in Yellowknife will proceed as planned this summer, confirmed Metro Huculak, superintendent of Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1) on Wednesday.
His confirmation follows the issuance of a letter by 10 parents to R.J. Simpson, minister of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) Sunday urging the GNWT not to demolish the building so that there is more space for physical distancing when classes resume in September.
“We understand where the parents are coming from,” said Huculak in an interview with NNSL Media. “There was discussion (among the Yk 1 board of trustees) and with all the actions in place already it was difficult to stop the project.”
The hazardous material removal and abatement, and demolition is scheduled to start around June 29, said department of Industry, Tourism and Investment spokesperson Greg Hanna. It should be completed by Oct. 1, 2020. KBL Environmental was awarded the abatement and demolition contract for $1,006,842.82.
“The GNWT has secured a specialized third-party consultant to provide air monitoring services” for the hazardous material abatement, said Hanna.
While a new school is under construction after the building is demolished, the former J.H. Sissons students will attend William McDonald School, increasing the student numbers there to about 400, Huculak said.
Despite a larger student body, Huculak said Yk1 has plans in place to accommodate them while also implementing health and safety measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
William McDonald was designed to accommodate 484 students and in September there will be new portables for at least 100 kids, he said.
“The safety measures will respond to drop offs and traffic flows. They will be greater than usual. Konge Construction is working on plans for the traffic flows. The physical front of the school and parking lot will have to be changed, there will be more vehicles coming through and more staff. We have to make a safe place for parking and drop offs.”
The budget for those changes hasn’t been finalized yet but Huculak estimates it will cost $300,000 to $400,000.
Costs for other Covid-related safety measure expenses at Yk1 schools were also yet to be determined and more would be known once the chief public health officer approves the district’s safety plan for September.
“We don’t know our costs yet for personal protective equipment. The board still has to purchase things like hand sanitizer and lysol wipes and reorganize the traffic flow and doors,” Huculak said.
Its budget of $38 million for the 2020-2021 school year made no specific allocations for Covid-related expenses. Any additional funding from ECE for those costs would have to wait until the school reopening plans are finalized, said ECE spokesperson Meagan Wohlberg.
“Once these reopening plans are approved, education bodies will be able to update their operating budgets for 2020-2021 accordingly. Once schools’ reopening plans are developed and approved, the next step will be to conduct a gap analysis to ascertain what types of additional resources may be required, and then to build a case through established GNWT processes for requesting new or additional funding,” she said.
Class structures in September
In line with the protocols detailed in the GNWT’s Emerging Wisely Covid recovery plan, Yk 1 is considering a staggered format to classes to control the number of people inside classrooms at any one time.
“Staggered classes and blended programs are still being looked at. The restrictions are still pretty tough here. You’re not allowed to have 25 kids in a classroom. If you need to split (the class) then you need an extra staff member. If you have a dozen classes then you need a dozen extra classrooms and staff members. We don’t know yet how that will work.
“Some things will be restricted like drama and music and indoor sports. Those speciality teachers could be reassigned to do other things. We’re looking at those courses because a lot of kids thrive in them. It’s mentally good for them. We want to do what’s best for kids and what’s safe for kids and staff.”
Huculak hopes a more detailed plan for the new school year will be available by the end of June.
“We want something as soon as possible so we can share that information with the community and our stakeholders,” he said.
Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...
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