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Repair or rebuild? Minister mulls future of Ross River School

The Yukon government is facing a big decision with the Ross River School: repair the current school year after year or build a new one?

School has faced foundation problems since shortly after it opened

A view of the school in Ross River, Yukon, in 2015. For years, people have been concerned about its structural integrity. This year, a plan to put a cooling system under the school were put on hold when the cost came in severely over budget. (CBC)

The Yukon government is facing a big decision with the Ross River School: repair the current school year after year or build a new one?

The school has been plagued by structural problems, starting about a year after it opened in 2000. It was closed in 2015 for major repairs and has been beset with questions about its safety for years.

In 2018, some staff at the school said they didn't feel safe working in the building, despite reassurance from the government that it was structurally sound.

Plans to deal with thawing permafrost under the school were shelved this year after the only bid on a tender to do the work came back $1 million over budget.

Yukon's Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn says he is heading to Ross River in early May to discuss the school's future with the community. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Mostyn says his department had budgeted $600,000 for the permafrost work. But at $1.6 million, the bid came in $200,000 over budget for all five projects planned for the school this year.

"Let's face it, there are two ways to go with the school," Minister of Highways and Public Works Richard Mostyn told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

"We rebuild it or we keep it in place and keep maintaining it. At $1.6 million for projects, it's not worth it to maintain it, so we're going to have to have that conversation," he said.

Mostyn says the territory's strong economy is driving up the price of repairs.

"When the economy slows down, costs in the rural Yukon tend to come down with it. And in hot economies where there's a lot of money in the territory the costs of the projects go up," he said.

Mostyn says he's heading to Ross River in early May to discuss the future of the school with the Ross River Dena Council and the community.

For now, Mostyn says the school is safe for staff and students, and that the department will continue to monitor the situation closely.

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