Sawdust and snow: Building Baffin’s new regional centre

More than 30 Igloolik construction workers are working 12-hour days to build the infrastructure for Baffin’s new regional centre.


IGLOOLIK Dominic Angotimarik bends into the yellow cone of light, a plume of silvery breath rising as he pencils the lumber with the trace of a staircase.

He reaches for his circular saw and executes the cut. Small triangles of wood drop silently into a dark bed of sawdust on what is to become a civil servant’s living-room floor.

In a few weeks’ time, when Igloolik is blanketed in perpetual darkness, construction workers like Angotimarik will depend on electric floodlamps to illuminate their work.

Right now, most of the crew is working furiously to finish framing three new apartment complexes, and to seal them in plywood walls to allow interior finishing work to continue through the winter.

“We want to get them closed in as fast as possible before it gets any darker or colder,” Aime Panimera, site manager for Nunavut Construction Corporation (NCC) says, stepping over drifting snow near an opening in the north wall.

New Baffin region headquarters

In Igloolik, future site of Baffin regional administrative offices for the Nunavut government, NCC is under contract to bring 24 housing units on line in time for division in April 1999. The crew has been working overtime to complete the first phase of construction by next spring.

And they’re keeping up with a tight schedule, Panimera says, despite a less-than-ideal climate.

“I’m particulary proud since we’ve only had two journeymen carpenters,” Panimera says.

Panimera, himself a journeyman millright and plumber, is overseeing construction of 12 new housing units in Igloolik. The design calls for three buildings, side by side, each containing three, two-bedroom, two-storey apartment units, and a single one-storey, two-bedroom apartment.

“We’ve never built this type of building before, but they caught on really good, really quick.”

An additional 12 units are scheduled for construction next year.

Twelve-hour shifts

As in other Nunavut communities where similar projects are underway the Igloolik crew has been working 12-hour shifts, six and often seven – days a week, to accelerate construction. But unpredictable weather can wreak havoc on a construction schedule.

Tha’s what happened three weeks ago, when gale-force winds forced Panimera to send workers home after they tried in vain to secure a shipment of styrofoam insulation panels.

“We got out of there just in time,” Panimera recalls. “An hour after we left a wall blew off and flipped onto where the insulation was.” A third of the blue insulation panels destined for the housing units was also blown away.

Most of the 31 local men hired here have no formal training as builders. Some of the younger crew members had little experience in construction at all, before work started on the housing units in September.

Training and skill-sharing

The few who did, like Dominic Angotimarik and Louis Otik, have been sharing their skills.

“They’re respected,” Panimera says. “The younger guys listen to them.”

Once a week the whole crew gathers for a special safety meeting to put themselves on guard against several hazards at the site: slippery roofs, icy ladders and scaffolding, and the ever-diminishing amount of natural light.

Outside, laborers try to keep ahead of the weather, clearing walkways and wrestling sheets of plywood from beneath piles of snow. Others are busy sealing the seams of the plywood walls with a rubber compound.

Once the buildings have been closed in, drywalling and taping inside will begin. By then the crew will be pared down to a core of the most seasoned drywallers. But everybody’s expected to be recalled when construction starts up again next summer.

In the course of a few weeks, a number of young men have acquired first-hand knowledge of modern construction methods. Will it lead some to follow the crew boss’s example and seek formal training in the building trades?

Yes, says Panimera, who spent eight years practicing his trade at Nanisivik and Polaris mines.

“A lot of guys know they will have to go out for at least a couple of months a year for their training if they want to pass the apprenticeship exams.”

The tribulations of northern construction

Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT A clean-up crew from Igloolik may be hired to round up more than a thousand panels of styrofoam insulation blown across the tundra during a violent storm three weeks ago.

The insulation, which belongs to Nunavut Construction Corporation, was stored in bales at the site of a government staff-housing project.

“I guess the wind got under them and broke apart the packages,” NCC project manager Ted McLean said.

It’s not known exactly how far the insulation may have travelled. Wind speeds of between 40 and 62 knots were registered throughout the Oct. 14 storm.

The construction company has since filed an insurance claim for material damages of $24,000. All told, 1,340 four-inch and three inch panels of blue styrofoam insulation were blown north toward the Fury and Hecla strait.

“We’re also allowing a claim for clean-up, things like hiring some individuals next summer when they can actually see the stuff and collect it,” McLean said.

Gale-force winds tore the second-floor walls from two of the buildings under construction and blew away a 500-gallon water tank, which was later recovered.

“When a structure is half-built like that, it’s very vulnerable to that kind of thing,” McLean said. “Once it’s together it’s very strong, but if it’s half done, you can have the kind of damage like they had in Igloolik.”

In order to stay on schedule, NCC says it has no choice now but to fly in replacement materials.

“This is the sort of thing that insurance is for, and we are well covered” McLean said.

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