Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad  Print this page

School buildings get failing grade

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 11/06) - Look at it like a word problem from junior high math class: the average age of schools in Nunavut is 20.4 years.

Just over 44 per cent of the population in Nunavut are 19-years-old or younger.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Years of Neglect

  • Average age of schools in Nunavut: 20.4 years
  • Longest period for a school without a major renovation: Iqaluit's Inuksuk high school, 36 years

    Other aging schools that have gone many years without major repairs (the building's age is followed below by the number of years since the last renovations, in brackets):

  • Arviat's Qitiqliq school 33 (14)
  • Cape Dorset's Peter Pitseolak school 37 (14)
  • Coral Harbour's Sakku school 27 (11)
  • Iqaluit's Nakusuk school 35 (35)
  • Rankin Inlet's Maani Ulujuk school 24 (24)
  • Sanikiluaq's Nuiyak school 22 (12)
  • Pangnirtung's Alookie school 17 (13)
  • Taloyoak's Netsilik school 28 (10)

    The Department of Education's five-year capital plan calls for renovations and construction in the following locations (included is the total project cost over five years):

  • Cape Dorset Peter Pitseolak school addition $8,345,000
  • Coral Harbour new school $15,800,000
  • Coral Harbour school renovations $5,300,000
  • Gjoa Haven elementary school renovation with gym $17,351,000
  • Iqaluit Inuksuk high school renovations $22,650,000
  • Qikiqtarjuaq Inuksuit school addition $9,965,000
  • Sanikiluaq new school $15,320,000

    - Source: Nunavut Department of Education
  • At what point do these two factors collide, and show your work.

    According to the Department of Education and school principals, the answer is soon. In some places, the deterioration is happening already.

    In its five-year plan, the Department of Education calls for $94.7 million in spending on renovating and building schools.

    Many of the facilities are getting crowded, and according to Education Minister Ed Picco, you need to solve that word problem with capital spending.

    "At one point, when a school got crowded they would bring in portable units," Picco said. "Now, when we need to add classrooms, we ask what else do we need to do while we are at it. Build four classrooms when you only need two, spend a little bit more and look at the total school complex."

    Renovations to Aqsarniit school in Iqaluit took six weeks longer than planned. The Department of Education is looking at it as a learning experience.

    "The first thing I did (about the six week delay) was I wrote Levinia Brown (minister of Community and Government Services CG&S) and asked how we can negate this the next time. Our capital projects are run through CG&S. Six weeks, on a capital project like that, isn't too bad," said Picco.

    There are a number of factors the education department considers before undertaking renovations, according to Picco.

    "It depends, we take that list (of the age of the schools) and prioritize the list, and match it with the dollars available," said Picco.

    Inuksuk high school in Iqaluit is the oldest school in the territory. At 36 years old, it hasn't yet seen major repairs. There is $22,650,000 set aside to renovate that school, and principal Terry Young knows what he would like to see.

    "A big thing is natural light in the school," said Young.

    Inuksuk school was built in a modular design, with small porthole style windows. A student could go through the entire school day there without seeing the sun, even in the spring.

    "We didn't have the same information about natural light when those schools were built," said Picco. "As time has progressed, we have learned that it is better to have natural light, especially here. After April 4 we have sun all day, it is more stimulating for the student."

    Christopher Ehikhamen, principal of the two-year-old Jonah Amitnaaq school in Baker Lake, loves the big windows there.

    "The atrium has such big windows, and the sun makes the building feel warmer," said Ehikhamen. "We are on top of a hill, facing the lake, and there is nothing there to distract the students."

    Even though it is one of the newest schools in the territory, Ehikhamen feels that his school may still have to get bigger.

    "We are talking about it, and in about five years, we would need some new classrooms," said Ehikhamen. His school currently has around 350 students, up a little from last year.

    Peter Pitseolak school in Cape Dorset is 37 years old, and is slated for more than $8 million in renovations.

    "The school isn't in terribly bad shape, but we do have a space problem," said principal Clyde Rogers.

    The school has its Grade 7 students spending an extra year in the elementary school.

    Last year they had 170 students at the high school. This year, without the Grade 7 class in attendance, that number has stayed the same.

    "After the renovation, we will probably be able to have (grade) 7 to 12, and make it a larger school," said Rogers.

    At Inuksuk high school, the Grade 8 students were moved to the new middle school, and the numbers are still holding firm.

    "Last year we had 500 students, now we have about 460," said Young. "We have very little space and our population is very high, even with 100 students moving to the middle school."

    If Baker Lake's high school is any indication, the renovated schools could turn out much better than before. Ehikhamen likes his new building.

    "We have an excellent gym, with a stage component," he said. "We have a beautiful library, one of the best computer labs in the territory. People don't talk about the old school, the new building is state of the art."

    Rogers has been meeting with his district education authority, and in January people from Cape Dorset will sit down with education department officials to discuss the plan for renovating.

    "Our gym is in the middle of the school, it is a major distraction to students," Rogers said. "Plus, the gym is used by the community, which means you have to go through the school after hours to get to the gym. We'd like to see a new gym."

    Some small changes would make a huge difference for Pitseolak school.

    "The extension will make it look more like a high school," Rogers said. "Right now, we don't have any lockers, and we want to fix that. We also want to change the entrance. Right now, every time the snow blows, the entrance is blocked in."

    Aside from letting the sun shine in his school, principal Young in Iqaluit wants a few changes to the well-used gym.

    "We have a good floor in the gym, but we would like a room for aerobics, and an extension to the balcony in the gym," said Young.

    Every new school and school renovation in Nunavut will have one major feature in common, a space for young children.

    "Since 2004, in major renovation, we have been putting in a dedicated day care space," said Picco.