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'They took the same approach as you would with an 'underwater; drilling rig.'

School gets $22.5 million overhaul to lighten up

By JOHN THOMPSON

Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit is a forbidding place to step inside.

The halls are long and poorly lit. The floors feel dingy, even after they've been cleaned. It's easy to feel lost wandering the building's nearly identical four quadrants. And the only window to be seen is the odd porthole, which makes the building feel like it was designed to be beneath the sea.

No wonder many parents, let alone their children, feel uncomfortable visiting the place.

Robert Billard, an architect with the firm Bunting Coady in Vancouver, says he hopes a major renovation in 2008 will make the school more welcoming to students and the rest of the commu­nity.

The $22.5 million project will use the existing metal girders and foundation, and remove almost everything else. The biggest change will be the amount of light let into the building, through bigger windows, and a large skylight to be placed in the centre of the building.

"It'll feel totally different," he said Tuesday.

In an appeal to Inuit culture, the opening in the building's centre, above the main foyer on the ground floor, will be in the shape of a kayak, eight metres wide and 20 metres long, built from a "translucent insulated wall" supported by slanted windows.

A traditional kayak that currently sits near the building's main entrance would be suspended above the foyer, Billard said.

As well, historic photos currently on display in the school halls, as well as several murals that will not be preserved, will be photographed or scanned, and seen by students in the updated school on plasma television sets that will hang above the main foyer.

The new school will also feature a space that will surely be appreciated by the larger community: a theatre, capable of holding an audience of 250 people, with modern sound and light equipment.

While the building will be no larger than it currently is, Billard says the new design makes better use of available space – getting rid of unnecessary halls and oddly-shaped rooms currently used for storage. As a result, the new building will have more classrooms than the present school.

Among the classrooms will be a real biology and chemistry lab, which the school presently lacks. As well, the new shop would include a room to skin animals caught during land trips, and a room for jewelry making.

The renovated gymnasium will also feature an aerobics room, where the stage currently is.

And the air should taste less stale after renovations. The aging air conditioning system, which Billard describes as "recycled air in a ziplock bag," will be replaced with a new, quieter and more energy-efficient system.

With a large component of the renovation being focused on adding windows, the architects and school administrators are considering how they will deter vandalism.

This summer every window of the new wing of Aqsarniit Middle School was smashed by vandals.

There are two options, Billard explains. The first would be to use hurricane glass, which is designed to withstand a two-by-four hurtled at speeds of up to 120 km/hr.

But such glass is expensive. A cheaper alternative would be to install "sacrifice windows" – cheap glass installed on top of the windows, which would in theory protect the windows themselves.

A third option being considered by the Nunavut government would be to install shutters. Such vandalism usually occurs during the summer, so the shutters could be pulled up at the end of the school year.

The exterior walls will be made of galvanized metal, rather than fibreglas, and will likely be a light grey, with sections painted burgundy and olive-green, rather than the existing blue scheme.

Interior walls will be a variety of earth tones borrowed from the tundra, Billard said.

Yet the building will retain a similar shape from the outside, respecting the fact that the school, built in 1971, is an Iqaluit landmark.

Billard explains at the time of the building's construction, "the theory was windows were a liability," so few were included in the school design.

As well, "there was an expectation there was just no light up here, and it's inhospitable and no one wants to spend time outdoors."

"They took the same approach as you would with an Antarctic research station, or an underwater drilling rig."

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