Yukon government plans work for this summer on the Ross River School

The contract will be for mechanical cooling and insulation in the crawlspace

Rhiannon Russell

Special to the News

The Yukon government plans to add mechanical cooling and insulation to the crawlspace of the Ross River School this summer, in hopes of stabilizing the shifting permafrost.

The school has had structural issues, including cracks in the walls and sloping floors, since shortly after it was built in 1999.

A forecast listed on the government’s tender-management system shows the estimated cost of the cooling project as between $100,000 to $1 million. The tender will be posted this month.

“The work is to help manage the movement in the foundation of that school,” said Doris Wurfbaum, spokesperson for the Department of Highways and Public Works.

The building closed for several months in 2015 while it was relevelled. In 2017, after a series of earthquakes, an engineering company recommended it be relevelled again, at a cost of approximately $1.2 million.

That didn’t happen, though the building was deemed safe for occupation. At the time, Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn said it made sense to focus on stabilizing the ground underneath the school before levelling it again.

The school came up in the legislature last fall. Mostyn said the school is being monitored at least twice a year by an architect, a structural engineer, and a survey team. He cited a February 2018 engineering report that found the school remains safe for occupancy.

In the winter, a thermosyphon system freezes the ground underneath the school, counteracting the heat from the building that would otherwise cause it to thaw. The goal is that it freezes enough to stay frozen during the summer, when the system isn’t operational. But that hasn’t been happening.

Bill Watt of Arctic Foundations of Canada, the company that installed the school’s underground cooling system when it was built, told the News in 2017 that he believed the soil’s moisture content was miscalculated.

One possible solution to the school’s woes would be adding refrigeration devices to cool the ground in the summer, he said at the time—something the government is now intending to do.

A 2017 engineering report included a cost estimate of $500,000 for this work.

Contact Rhiannon Russell at editor@yukon-news.com

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