New F.H. Collins school build delayed

Just three months ago, shortly before the territorial election campaign, government ministers bragged at a sod-turning ceremony that the school's construction was underway.

The new F.H. Collins Secondary School won’t be built until August, 2015 – two years later than expected.

Just three months ago, shortly before the territorial election campaign, government ministers bragged at a sod-turning ceremony that the school’s construction was underway. A large billboard – since amended – declared the school would be built by August, 2013.

But it all proved to be premature. The school designs hadn’t been completed at the time. Once they were finished in mid-October, it became clear the initial schedule was too tight, said Education Minister Scott Kent.

Now the construction contract won’t be tendered for one year and the building schedule has been stretched from 18 to 24 months.

The NDP is crying foul, accusing the government of having “misled” the public.

“If I’m building a house, I make sure I have the final design before I start digging the basement,” said Jim Tredger, the party’s education critic. “It sounds like an expensive way to go about things.”

Cynthia Tucker, assistant deputy minister of Public Works, fingered several reasons for the delay.

The preparation and review of designs took six months longer than expected, she said. “It’s a complicated building and it just took longer than anticipated.”

The gym is currently being inspected for hazardous materials – namely, asbestos and lead paint – and this may lead to demolition delays, said Tucker.

“The current schedule didn’t make any allowances at all,” said Tucker.

And plans to heat the new school with geothermal energy are still being studied. “There hasn’t been a geothermal heating project of this magnitude North of 60,” she said. “It appears we have ideal conditions on site.”

Under a deal currently in the works between the territory and the city, warm water would be pumped to the surface to heat the school and, once cooled, would be fed into the municipal water supply.

One of the biggest inconveniences for students will be having no gymnasium for two years.

Because the existing gym stands where part of the new school is to be built, it’s got to go before construction starts in earnest. So, from autumn of 2013 until autumn of 2015, students will be shuttled to the Canada Games Centre.

But some nuisances can be avoided, said Tredger.

The early start on construction prevented students from using the athletic field this autumn, he said.

The parking lot’s been torn up to allow for the installation of new fibre-optic cable and utility lines. This work was done in a rush – amidst the election campaign – to the consternation of the Yukon Socio-economic Environmental Assessment Board, which asserted the territory had jumped the gun.

This isn’t the first time the new school’s construction has been pushed back. In the spring, it was expected the new school would be occupied by the autumn of 2012. But the territory delayed the bulk of construction work by one year, explaining that designers needed more time.

Kent, who graduated from F.H. Collins in 1986, defended the delays as being fiscally prudent.

“Taking a bit of time on the front end now will pay dividends and ensure the school built there will be something we’re proud of and will meet the learning requirements, not only for students who graduate there in 2016, but also those who graduate in 2066.”

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com

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