Ross River school building seems unsafe, says staff member

'I have concerns for the children that are here, I have concerns for the workers that are there, and concerns for myself,' said Keifer Sterriah, and educational assistant at the school.

Government insists the school building is structurally sound, but not everyone is reassured

'I have concerns for the children that are here, I have concerns for the workers that are there, and concerns for myself,' said Kiefer Sterriah, an educational assistant at the Ross River school. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Some staff at the school in Ross River, Yukon don't believe the territorial government's assurances that the building is safe. 

The school's foundation has been plagued with problems over the years. It was closed in 2015 for major repairs, and engineers had recommended it be re-levelled again in 2017.

But that never happened. Instead, Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn said engineers had determined the building was structurally sound.

Kiefer Sterriah, an educational assistant at the school, is not re-assured and says he doesn't feel safe working in the building. 

"I do have concerns. I have concerns for the children that are here, I have concerns for the workers that are there, and concerns for myself."

Sterriah says there are several areas of the school that have obvious problems.  

"When I see the cracks in the walls, you can see the whole school shifting, really. The windows, the library, the kindergarten class and the hallway." 

Cracks can be seen in several places inside the school, indicating the building has shifted. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Sterriah says the building is important to Ross River because it's not just used for classes.

"We use the gym at nights for kids to come, 'cause it's a safe place for them to play. It's a safe place for them to socialize, play games. Also the kitchen and the gathering room. It's been home for many things — potlatch, funerals, special events - all taking place in the gym. And the kitchen plays a big role. This the only place where you can do those things," he said.

Robbie Dick, a Ross River resident, agrees with Sterriah — he doesn't believe the school is safe, either. Dick says it's been a problem for many years and he wonders why the government hasn't managed to complete repairs."It's falling down. We need a new school. And I don't feel safe going in there," he said.

"It's pretty sad to see. Ross River is left out — if this was in any other community, it'd be fixed right away."

'If this was in any other community, it'd be fixed right away,' said Ross River resident Robbie Dick. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Dick worries that thawing permafrost is making the ground unstable, and that if there were a slight earthquake, the whole building would collapse. 

'Zero plans to fix,' says opposition

On Wednesday, Yukon Party leader and MLA for the community, Stacey Hassard, raised the issue in the Legislature and asked Mostyn about the school.

Hassard asked why Mostyn "won't take action to address the concerns of workers at that school."

Ross River's MLA, Stacey Hassard, asked why the government 'won't take action to address the concerns of workers at that school.' (CBC)

"The Liberals have zero plans to fix, renovate or replace the school. Meanwhile we have staff from the school who have some very serious concerns for the children.  Families and staff should feel confident that the school they rely on is safe for all of those using it," Hassard said.

Hassard asked if Mostyn would go to Ross River to meet with the community.

Mostyn reminded Hassard that the school also experienced problems under the former Yukon Party government, adding that "they were partially responsible for the half-measures we inherited." 

He also said an engineer's report on the building last winter confirmed it was safe and structurally sound.

"The multi-disciplinary team includes an architect, a structural engineer and a survey team. At times we've also enlisted a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, and a geo-technical engineer with expertise in permafrost. We will continue to do so as warranted," Mostyn said.

Mostyn says the team does inspections twice a year, and will do more frequent site visits if necessary. 

The government says an engineer's report on the building last winter confirmed it was safe and structurally sound. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

"The staff and students of that school are critical and we have to ensure their safety and we will continue to do so," Mostyn said. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Education says the school will be examined again this month and that government officials will hold a public meeting in the community to share the results of that report.


 

About the Author

Nancy Thomson

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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