Early planning will be the key to success in building a new school in a northern indigenous community

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Written by Carolyn Gruske

A long, cold winter isn’t typically the preferred forecast for most construction projects, but it’s exactly what is needed before building can begin on a new school that will be located on the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation Treaty 9 Territory.

KI, which also known as the Big Trout Lake community, is located approximately 440 kilometres northeast of Sioux Lookout, and is a fly-in community, which makes transporting building materials a challenge. The only road access comes in the winter when ice roads can be built over the snow-packed ground. That means transporting building supplies into the community can only be done when the winter roads are passable.

“One thing that is kind of threatening us in the north is climate change. It’s really hampering our winter roads. It has been unpredictable over the past three years. We need a very cold for our ice roads and river crossings and for the snow to stay sturdy long into the spring,” explains KI Chief Donny Morris adding that typically the roads aren’t able to be built until March, and that they only last about six weeks.

“That’s why we have to pick a contractor now, so they can start planning the steel and have it as close by as possible, so when the winter road is finished and complete and up to the maximum ice level that’s required, then mobilization will start.

“It’s a wild guess because we don’t know what this winter will bring.”

KI has a site picked for the new school, Indigenous Services Canada announced it is investing $42 million to cover the construction costs, and the community has partnered with Keewatin-Aski Ltd., a professional engineering and architectural consulting firm based in Sioux Lookout.

Currently, KI leadership is in the process of deciding which contractor to choose for the project. Three Manitoba-based firms have pitched their proposals, says Morris.

“They’re pretty well known and knowledgeable. They build schools and hospitals and health clinics. Don’t ask me how I’m going to decide. We sat down with them, they gave us ideas about why they should the successful candidate. We’re talking amongst ourselves about who would fit [best] with the community to build that new school for us.”

Among the criteria Morris is considering are the number of local people the contractor plans to hire. Since KI only has 1,700 members, there is a limit to the number of residents skilled in the construction trades.

Morris says he expect the decision will be made by September 13.

Although KI does currently have a school on its territory, it only goes up to Grade 10. It is also overcrowded and getting near the end of its lifecycle. The new building will accommodate close to 400 students and will offer classes from kindergarten to Grade 12.

“The new school means a lot. We won’t have our students leave at an early age when they finish Grade 10 here. We’ll get to keep them two years longer. And a new facility will probably be the highest landmark in this region,” adds Morris who says that personally he is very happy to see progress on the project.

“It’s been a setting that has required for a lot of years and we’re finally getting it. That’s why, along with the community, I’m happy. It’s a long over-due process that is finally in place.”

After the school, the community hopes to start work on its water system and a new teacherage.

Construction on the school is expected to be completed in time for students to attend classes in the new building starting in September 2021.

 

 

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