Sanirajak school’s maintenance problems are ‘way beyond wow,’ MLA says

Joelie Kaernerk details long list of issues at school where sprinkler system has been broken since May

Sanirajak MLA Joelie Kaernerk is concerned about mounting health and safety issues at the Arnaqjuaq School, where over 300 students attend, he said. Overcrowding, a kitchen being used as a classroom and maintenance issues are prompting Kaernerk to push that an extension be added to the building. (Photo by Meral Jamal)

By Madalyn Howitt

Sanirajak’s school has been waiting months for the parts needed to fix its broken fire sprinkler system but it’s also struggling with a host of other health and safety issues, the hamlet’s local MLA says.

Overcrowding, broken water fountains, plumbing issues and a kitchen that’s being used as a makeshift classroom are just some of the problems piling up for Arnaqjuaq School, the only school in the hamlet of about 900 people, said Joelie Kaernerk.

“It’s way beyond ‘wow’… I don’t know how to describe it anymore,” he said of the school’s condition.

Just over 300 students from kindergarten through Grade 12 are registered at Arnaqjuaq, Kaernerk said, but the building is only meant to accommodate approximately 200 students.

“The most overcrowding is in the kindergarten, so one teacher has to always teach 30 kindergarteners split into two groups, group A that goes in the morning and group B in the afternoon,” he said.

Other outstanding issues include flooding in one of the boys’ bathrooms, sewage vents on top of the school being vandalized and plugged, no master key available f0r all the rooms in the building, a new commercial oven that has been sitting idle for five years waiting to be installed, and water fountains that don’t work, Kaernerk said.

“Let’s say for instance, if a government building has no water, there’s a policy in place that the building has to be closed due to no water,” he said.

At Arnaqjuaq School, “this is a maintenance issue which is not looked at as a priority,” Kaernerk said. “It’s like the government has turned their back on us.”

Most worrying, he said, is that the kitchen where meals are prepared is also being used as an alternative classroom.

“I don’t think a kitchen is suitable for a classroom when it comes to safety and hazards,” he said.

Not only is Arnaqjuaq the only school in Sanirajak, it’s also the hamlet’s largest building. That means it’s used as an emergency shelter when there’s a power outage, something that happened this past October.

But it may have to stop being used for that purpose if there is no fix for the outstanding issues that make the building unsafe, Kaernerk said.

That includes having to fumble with up to 75 keys to unlock certain doors in the building, something he said he witnessed firsthand when he was at the school and staff were struggling to find the right keys for different doors.

In addition to its long list of maintenance issues, the school has been without a functioning fire sprinkler system since May 2022.

In its place, the school administration hired a fire watch team that takes shifts monitoring the school 24 hours a day, at a cost of $120,000 and counting as of Dec. 20.

A part needed to fix the sprinkler system has been on order since November, a spokesperson with the Department of Community and Government Services said last month.

The cost to maintain the fire watch is depleting the school’s budget, said Roger Beaudry, the hamlet’s economic development officer and a member of the local district education authority.

Work order requests sent to the Department Community and Government Services and shared with Nunatsiaq News show several calls for maintenance work from September through December have been marked “work in progress” or were denied.

Beaudry said those requests were initially marked as urgent by CGS before being downgraded.

Those include issues fixing the locks on the principal’s door and making master keys available to staff, requests that CGS said are the responsibility of the school administration.

“In general, management of keys is handled by the school administration. If a key core needs to be replaced, cores will have to be purchased and shipped to the community for installation,” said Hala Duale, a spokesperson for CGS, in an email earlier this month.

“There is a large risk in cutting new keys knowing that the existing keys may have been lost, taken, stolen or are out in the community and could be used to access the school.”

Other requests, such as hiring a professional to install the new commercial oven, are the responsibility of the Department of Education’s capital planning unit, Duale said. Work on plumbing and sewage would typically be completed during school closure when replacement materials are brought in by sealift.

Repairing the sewage vents can only be done once CGS secures a contractor to go into the community to plan the scope of the work needed.

However, with the cost of the fire watch growing daily, Beaudry said CGS should help foot the bill for issues like making new master keys and fixing locks on the doors.

In the meantime, Beaudry said the school is feeling the strain of keeping the building operational.

“The budget is running out. We might go on a deficit,” he said.

“They’re setting us up for failure.”

Beaudry said he’s also concerned the school’s maintenance and overcrowding issues are impacting the students’ ability to learn.

As for the school’s future, Kaernerk, he said he wants a new high school built to help ease overcrowding but thinks an extension added to the existing building will be more likely.

“As Sanirajak is a small community, I’m pretty sure an expansion would be ideal since trying to get a new school costs millions of dollars. I think that’s an important reason why the government’s not trying to see this as a priority,” he said.

Kaernerk raised his concerns about the school in Nunavut’s legislative assembly in October, and said he plans to invite the education minister to visit the school ahead of the winter sitting.

“It’s my way of making the government understand,” Kaernerk said.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by 867 on

    Sounds like the school is run by someone who has poor organizational skills. 5 years to install a new oven? wow

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    • Posted by Systems of Incompetence on

      I won’t argue that there is plenty of incompetence on the individual level at play here, but can speak from experience about the ineptitude of CGS in procuring badly needed parts in a timely manner. As a former manager within a facility I once ordered a part through CGS and after waiting several months decided to purchase it directly from a supplier. I had it within 2 days… the CGS order made it to us about 6 months after that. This was years ago, but I doubt much has changed, and I doubt anyone with the power to make changes here will be able to do so. Why no? The system is an unwieldy tangle of unresponsive channels with little incentive or interest in solving problems it can not see and / or directly feel. I felt the problems I experienced and was able to fix them within days. That’s how an effective system can work and should be designed.

      stopped going through them to order parts I needed and saved myself

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      • Posted by Oh, the irony on

        “little incentive or interest in solving problems it can not see and / or directly feel.”

        Nailed it. If that same procurement staff needs to order a part to get his own snowmachine fixed, believe me, he will spend all day calling suppliers to make sure it arrives as soon as possible.

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  2. Posted by Old timer on

    Get the fire marshal to close it down if the building 200 cap and 300 students and staff way over cap close it down.

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  3. Posted by Where is the Minsiter of CGS? on

    Joelie, you should invite the Minister of Community and Government Services along for the tour as well… I forgot his name, David Joanasie is it?

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  4. Posted by Taxpayer on

    This is a complete no brainer. Shut the school down until is can be made safe and serviceable. No amount of education is worth a student’s or educator’s life or health.

    Once it is shut down, let the lawsuits from the parents flow. Section 2 of the Ed Act entitles Sanirajak students to an education after all. What better use of our Law School graduates not already sucked up into the government system?

    I think this may be the only way that the GN ends up taking anything outside of Iqaluit seriously.

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  5. Posted by Drowned Out by Mainstream on

    Problems… what of the Doomsday Clock, Nuclear Armageddon, when the news stream is centered on the need for Leopard Tanks in E Europe. Nonetheless the school’s condition needs greater attention, good work NN for bringing that to press.

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    • Posted by Oh for god’s sake… on

      There is a difference in National News and Local News. Larger outlets are reporting on the global stories and local papers report on on community level issues. I mean, obviously.

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      • Posted by Godzilla on

        I think that a nuclear winter would make both the international and local news.

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  6. Posted by Decentralization isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. on

    Is this 3 schools now that are either out of commission or nearing it due to a maintenance problem? Igloolik, fuel spill that’s been misreported by NN, Rankin Inlet glycol leak, and now this.

    When do we say that the decentralized government of Nunavut is broken?

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    • Posted by They cower in fear just like cowards on

      The system is the problem, staffed by proceduralists who bind themselves to sets of complex and dysfunctional rules that are not responsive to real world problems. Add to that a management system that does not incentivize thinking outside the narrow constraints that have built around it like the accumulated detritus that decays on the sea floor. Our leadership is marked by weakness, fear and incompetence. Go hide in your office, someone one else will get it done (eventually!).

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  7. Posted by S on

    Seriously concerning also is the fact that there are more than 300 students in a hamlet with a population of approximately 900 people

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  8. Posted by Jim craimer on

    Asking for lawsuit …. like a serious lawsuit. how can a school even be open without proper fire care system?

    teachers union should be yelling as well for unsafe working environment .

  9. Posted by Think About It on

    I would bet that this community like many others are under a CMA, community maintenance agreement. CGS pays the community a set amount every year to maintain the governments assets. So before everyone jumps on CGS maybe NN could place a bit more context into the story. Question I would have would be why is the oven waiting to be installed? Installing the new commercial oven, the responsibility of the Department of Education’s Capital Planning unit, really, the Capital Planning group are responsible for prioritizing the funding for new schools not installing ranges. And CGS said it was DOE Capital Planners that need to find a installer?
    75 keys? Is there even 75 doors in the school?
    Why is the sprinkler system down, when was CGS/DOE notified?
    Can the oven be installed as is or did someone order the oven that is not compatible with the kitchen?
    Why do kids have access to the roof to damage the vents?

    So instead of just repeating some politician looking for airtime maybe NN can ask questions why.

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  10. Posted by Amazing on

    It’s not a surprise that the problems these schools are having are mostly hvac/ plumbing related. The maintainers aren’t trained on how to maintain a lot of this equipment. Shit has been on band-aid repair mode and it’s no wonder systems fail. The need competent tradesmen to go school to school on rotations, gets list of what’s wrong and fix it. No more “that’s good enough for now” enough lying and saying shit is working fine. This is not fair to the students and teachers. Ive seen first hand, the complacency of GN workers who should be fired for gross negligence to foreseeable problems.

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  11. Posted by Way on

    The public housing system has been far worse for very much longer WOW!!!

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