Plans underway to fix Ross River School

The plan is for the school to be habitable again by Aug. 1, according to the documents.

The Department of Highways and Public Works plans to have the crumbling, unsafe Ross River School back up and running in time for the next school year.

The department has issued a request for qualifications looking for someone to fix all the structural problems that led to the school being closed in January.

The deadline for the request for qualifications was Friday. Once a shortlist is created companies will be asked to submit a bid for the work.

The plan is for the school to be habitable again by Aug. 1, according to the documents.

Students have been banned from the building since mid-January when an engineering report found that the shifting and cracking building was unsafe.

Melting permafrost under the school, which was built in 2000, is a major cause of the problem. An engineering report indicated this is due to the warmth of the school’s heated crawl space.

The repairs the department has commissioned won’t deal with that. But a separate geotechnical study is being done to look at the underlying issues.

That report will be finalized sometime over the summer, the department says. Then a different contract will be issued to fix any problems it finds.

There is no dollar amount linked to the structural repairs – that’s something the department won’t make public until after the winning bid is chosen.

The request for qualifications does provide some insight into exactly how much work needs to be done.

Companies are being asked to repair 14 concrete pillars under the school’s crawl space and inspect all the beams.

The building needs to be re-leveled and all the internal finishes repaired. The framing over the library also needs to be fixed.

Meanwhile, a separate company is looking at the system that is supposed to limit permafrost melting.

Since the school is built on permafrost, movement is expected, said department spokesperson Alicia Debreceni. The long-term solution is to “monitor, adjust and repair.”

The school will now be inspected twice a year, as opposed to once. They’ll fix things every year as required, she said.

The department says there’s no problem getting the structural issues repaired before the geotechnical report is done.

“It’s a completely appropriate approach. We need to get the building structural work done so that the building can be occupied again, and at the same time investigating the geotechnical aspects because it is a more long-term project,” Debreceni said.

The school’s foundation is supposed to be kept cool in part with the help of a gadget called a thermosyphon, which draws heat away from the building foundation and surrounding soil.

Early indications are that this system is working, and “we just need to be monitoring and adjusting,” Debreceni said.

According to an investigation this year by Stantec Engineering, the temperature in the school’s crawl space was 17 degrees. It says that is “extremely high” for a building with the type of foundation found at Ross River School.

Crawl spaces would normally have temperatures that are the same as the outside air.

“High temperatures in the crawl space are considered to be the major cause of the permafrost degradation under the building,” the report says.

A second report, completed by Williams Engineering, also makes reference to the crawl space. It recommends the temperature be lowered.

Debreceni said it takes time for melting permafrost to cause damage.

“By modifying temperatures in the crawl space, it doesn’t have an immediate effect on the ground or the permafrost. It actually takes quite a period of time for those types of changes to be noticed or to take an effect.”

Since the school closed, students in Ross River have taken classes in makeshift classrooms around town, including two mobile classrooms borrowed from Yukon College.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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