Sinking into permafrost, Ross River School needs more repairs

Engineers are recommending that the Ross River School be relevelled again, just two years after a round of major repairs.

Engineers are recommending that the Ross River School be relevelled again, just two years after a round of major repairs.

Reports from earlier this year show permafrost under the school continues to warm, causing the building to move.

In 2015, the school was shut down for months and repaired after the building was found to be so badly damaged it was deemed unsafe.

“Common sense would dictate that when you’re spending millions of dollars on a fix for a school, that it’s going to last longer than two years,” said Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn.

“That would be my expectation as a Yukon citizen.”

Mostyn said his department is coming up with solutions for the school. All options, including building a new school, are on the table, he said.

“There are many options. I’m sure building a new school is one of them. I’m sure there are many others as well.”

The Ross River School was constructed in 1999 and 2000 on permafrost.

By 2002 it was already showing signs of distress “such as cracks in walls and sloping floors,” an engineering report from March 2017 says.

“Monitoring of ground temperatures indicated that the permafrost was retreating under the school.”

The school’s foundation is supposed to be kept cool in part with the help of contraptions called thermosyphon loops. Those are meant to pull heat away from the building foundation and surrounding soil.

Even with the thermosyphon system in place multiple reports over the years show that the building’s crawlspace is still too warm.

A report from January 2015 says the temperature in the crawl space was 17C.

“This is extremely high for a building utilizing thermosyphons to provide foundation stability. Crawl spaces above a thermosyphon system generally are required to have the same temperature as the outside air,” it says.

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

When engineers visited the school in March 2017 the crawl space had cooled to an average of about 7C, still slightly warmer than it should be, the newest report says.

“History has shown, however, that these temperatures can only be achieved in the winter — there needs to be a way to get summer crawl space temperatures colder.”

Mostyn said the thermosyphon system is not working.

“If the thermosyphon system was working, (the school) wouldn’t need to be relevelled,” he said.

To get any sort of permanent stability, the permafrost needs to refreeze, according to the latest report.

One option is to install refrigeration units that would refreeze the ground.

“Once the active layer under the school has been re-established in the sand and gravel, the mechanical system could be disconnected (but not removed) as the thermosyphons should be able to maintain the permafrost per the original design,” the report says.

That price tag is estimated at $500,000.

It’s not clear how much money has been spent on the school to date. The department is coming up with a total, Mostyn said.

Parts of the school were first relevelled in 2006 and more thermosyphon loops were installed. In 2013 the crawl space got improved insulation.

Geotechnical engineers have been monitoring the school twice a year ever since it was shut down in 2015.

The government spent about $1.8 million on repairs and relevelling that time around.

The bids came in over budget and geotechnical work was removed from the original request. Officials told the News at the time that work would be part of a separate tender.

Mostyn said he’s asked for more information on that work.

None of the department’s engineers were available for comment.

In 2015 an engineering report warned the problems at the school wouldn’t be fixed permanently until the ground was stabilized.

“If the foundation has not stabilized and further movement/settlement are allowed to occur, any repairs carried out should be considered as a temporary solution only.”

The reports came before earthquakes shook the territory earlier this month.

Structural engineers came to the school and ruled it was safe to occupy. That engineering report is expected to be made public May 12.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, pictured at a press conference in October, announced three new cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 20 as well as a new public exposure notice. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New COVID-19 cases, public exposure notice announced

The new cases have all been linked to previous cases

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read