Ross River students head back to class

Students in Ross River are back in school after an unplanned break of about two weeks. On Jan. 9, teachers sent children home after coming into work and discovering large cracks in the walls.

Students in Ross River are back in school after an unplanned break of about two weeks.

On Jan. 9, teachers sent children home after coming into work and discovering large cracks in the walls.

The cracks were inspected and the building was declared safe just days after, and classes resumed on Jan. 13.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Again, just a few days later, a more detailed engineer’s report came in that found the building to be in critical condition and at risk of collapse in the event of high winds, heavy snow or an earthquake.

The school shuttered indefinitely, pending repairs, on Jan. 19.

This week, students and teachers have trickled back into makeshift classrooms around town.

Two mobile classrooms were shipped up from Yukon College to help with the space crunch. They do not have bathrooms, but are parked outside the arena to allow students and staff to use facilities there.

In addition, the Hope Centre, the Mackenzie Building and a former teacher’s residence are also being used.

Seven half-day Kindergarten students got back to class Wednesday at a former teacher’s residence in town.

The Grade 10 students were also among the first to get back to class Wednesday, situating themselves in the Mackenzie Building.

On Thursday the Grade 1-3 class resumed in the Hope Centre, the Grade 4 and 5 class took over the first mobile classroom, and Grade 6 and 7 students set up shop in the Mackenzie Building.

The Grade 8 and 9 class will have resumed this morning in the second mobile classroom, if all went according to plan.

In total, 55 students were affected by the school closure. They were given homework packages to keep them busy.

The Department of Education had toyed with different plans to get the students back to class, including busing them to Faro, about 75 kilometres down the road.

“Our priority has been to minimize the disruption to students and staff and to get them back to class as soon as possible,” said Education Minister Doug Graham in a news release this week. “With input from the community, the Department of Education has developed a plan that ensures students can stay in their community as they resume their studies.”

The government has not yet determined when repairs to the school will be made, or how much they will cost.

Melting permafrost under the school, which was built in 2000, is a major cause of the school’s sorry state, according to the recent report by Stantec.

The majority of the problems are in the foundation or resulting from foundation problems, the report says. It talks about loose bolts and significant movement of some of the piers in the foundation.

The floor is sloped, particularly around the perimeter of the building. Walls and windows are cracking.

At the time of investigation, the temperature in the school’s crawl space was 17 degrees. According to the engineers 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.

But heating that space has been necessary to protect air handling equipment from freezing, a spokesperson for Highways and Public Works said earlier this month.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

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