Nearly 30 years beyond its lifespan, Igloolik school suffers major maintenance issues
Cracked water tank, barricaded doors 2 of many problems affecting one of Nunavut’s oldest schools
Ataguttaaluk Elementary School in Igloolik is one of Nunavut’s oldest schools, and it shows.
A long list of maintenance issues plagues the school, stretching from damage — sometimes caused by mischief — and deterioration on the outside to water and electrical issues inside.
“I think one of the reasons why there’s so much vandalism going on there is really, well, look at the building. Why would you treat it with any kind of care or respect?” said Clarissa Carter, a parent of three children who attend Ataguttaaluk school in grades 4, 2 and kindergarten.
Carter has lived in Igloolik for about 12 years. She runs a hardware store in town, but previously worked as a teacher in Igloolik and has served as a member of the local district education authority.
She said that at the school, many windows don’t latch properly and some are screwed completely shut, while some doors have to be barricaded with makeshift wooden crossbars because the hardware doesn’t work.
The steps leading out from a side emergency exit are crooked and appear to be sinking into the foundation. Inside, the hallways and floors are slanted from an uneven foundation.
In 2019, a window blew open during a blizzard and froze the pipes, which burst and flooded the school leading to mould issues inside some classrooms, Carter said.
Red paint on the wooden outside walls of the building is chipped and faded, and the blue side panelling is breaking off.
But it’s the water and plumbing problems that are the biggest worry, Carter said.
Last year, about half of the school’s toilets and urinals were not functional at all and the washrooms near the gym don’t work, preventing the public from using the gym in the evenings, she said.
The water tank is located in the basement of the school, accessible by a steep ladder. It has a large crack in it, which means it can’t be filled to the top and its structure is compromised. It’s been leaking for more than a year and is “constantly” running out of water, Carter said.
This is a big problem for a small town like Igloolik, which is home to around 2,000 people.
“There’s a large portion of our town that doesn’t have reliable access to water during the day,” Carter said. “Add on that it’s some of our youngest students, and it becomes extremely problematic in my mind.”
Built in 1968, the 55-year-old school is close to 30 years past its intended lifespan, according to data provided by the Department of Community and Government Services.
The last renovation at the school happened in 1999.
On top of all the maintenance issues, however, Carter said one of the biggest problems facing the school is a lack of communication between the Departments of Education, Community and Government Services, and Igloolik community members.
“They’re not communicating with the administrators, no one’s communicating with the DEA, and even someone like me, who is willing to call around and send emails and write letters, it’s really difficult to get any kind of information,” she said.
Igloolik District Education Authority vice-president Francis Piugattuk declined an interview with Nunatsiaq News to discuss the school, instead directing the newspaper to the principal of Ataguttaaluk Elementary School, Don MacAskill.
Nunatsiaq News tried to arrange an interview with MacAskill through the Department of Education in early September.
After nearly two months of repeated attempts, the department denied the request.
Instead, the department provided written statements in response to a number of sample questions Nunatsiaq News had provided to describe the nature of the interview.
Building assessment underway
Education Minister Pamela Gross announced in the legislative assembly last month a building condition assessment for the school to determine the full extent of the work required and how much it will cost.
Education spokesperson Krista Amey said the assessment, co-led by the Education and Community and Government Services departments, began June 29 and is set to wrap up Nov. 30.
In the meantime, temporary measures “have been put in place to mitigate further disruptions to operations and potential school closures,” she said.
That includes more frequent water deliveries and ensuring someone is inside the building with a walkie-talkie communicating with the water truck to make sure water does not reach the crack, which is about halfway up the tank, Amey said.
Carter said she’s happy that the assessment is finally being done, but wants to see one of two outcomes: either the school must have extensive renovations or the building needs to be scrapped and a new one built.
“We’re going to need a renovation. It’s clear,” she said.