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Tłı̨chǫ Big Boss criticizes NWT government for lack of communication after school renovation was scrapped

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Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty says he is disappointed with the Northwest Territories government’s lack of communication after a planned renovation of Chief Jimmy Bruneau School was scrapped from the territory’s recent capital budget.

“If important infrastructure is about to be removed, they should involve the organization or the region. And they didn’t,” Lafferty said.

The renovation of the school in Edzo, NWT had been included in the budget for years. The initial scope of work included classroom upgrades and upgrades to mechanical and electrical systems, according to an email from Department of Education, Culture and Employment spokesperson Briony Grabke.

A condemned residence wing and a four-bay bus garage are also scheduled to be demolished, with the garage to be replaced.

But that work returned to the planning phase in the 2023-24 capital budget that passed earlier this month.

Chief Jimmy Bruneau School opened in 1971. (Travis Burke/CBC)

‘Unacceptable and disrespectful’

The Tłı̨chǫ government has been asking for a new school for years. The move sets the stage for that, but Lafferty says he was “very surprised and caught off guard” that the renovations were scrapped.

“There was no word, no discussion, no indication that he was going to be removed,” Lafferty said.

“To me, it’s unacceptable and disrespectful as part of being in partnership with them.”

During a press conference in October before the proposed budget was presented, the territory’s finance minister, Caroline Wawzonek, said the renovation had been on the books since she was elected.

“That project stayed there even though everyone acknowledged that we agreed that something different needs to happen,” Wawzonek said at the time.

“So let’s not leave this on the books suggesting something that we all now know is not what the community really wants, what the local government really wants.”

The move was part of a broader review of each government department to come up with a more “realistic” capital budget.

“At that time, it was pointed out that [Chief Jimmy Bruneau School] was not ready to move forward with construction, and the project, as previously approved, did not reflect the preferred option of the Tłı̨chǫ government,” read a statement emailed to CBC News by the territory’s Education Minister RJ Simpson. .

“As a result, the budget for renovations of the current [Chief Jimmy Bruneau School] have been superseded by a budget to complete the planning work required by this new approach.”

He said that the territorial government agreed to work with the Tłı̨chǫ government towards their goal of building a new school.

A technical working group for a new school was formed and met on October 19. The group is made up of the Government of Tłı̨chǫ, the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency and the departments of Infrastructure and Education, Culture and Employment.

The scope of the project has yet to be determined, including where a new school could be built. The Tłı̨chǫ government recently conducted a survey asking for local input.

Lafferty said there has been talk in the past of turning parts of the building into a trade school or using it as an addiction treatment center.

Chief Jimmy Bruneau School opened in 1971 in Edzo, a neighboring community of Behchokǫ̀ and is considered one of the first Aboriginal-run schools in Canada.

Jean Chretien and Chief Jimmy Bruneau at the inauguration of the Chief Jimmy Bruneau School in Edzo (Behchoko). (NWT Archives/Native Communications Society Holdings – Native Press Photo Collection/N-2018-010: 0643)

Inside the halls on Friday afternoon, students drum while others play sleight of hand. Around 440 students attend. Lafferty himself went to the school years ago and has seen many of the changes the building has undergone over the decades. He said there have been real challenges with their infrastructure. Just this month, the kitchen was flooded.

Lafferty said the last major renovation at the school was in 1995 and another should have been done 20 years later, based on the territory’s own policies.

The territory’s School Capital Standards and Criteria state that a renovation “would generally be planned” if a building’s condition “is unsafe, but a technical assessment shows that renovations completed in the next five years could extend the life of the building.” another 20 years for less than the cost of replacing the building.

Grabke wrote that the territory “continues to monitor and address any operational issues with existing infrastructure as part of regular maintenance or through the Deferred Maintenance and Capital Asset Upgrade Fund programs.”

There is no timetable for when a new school might be built. Lafferty said she hopes to see it done “before time runs out.”

“Are we going to waste another 20 years? Is that the plan? This really worries me,” he said.

Grabke said that “the scope of the project needs to be determined before it gets started.”

“The [government of the Northwest Territories] is committed to working collaboratively with the task force to move Chief Jimmy Bruneau School forward to meet the needs of the community.”

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