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Yellowknife school upgrades in territory’s spending plan

Financial help for the renovation of two Yellowknife schools is earmarked in the territory’s latest capital spending plans.

On Tuesday, finance minister Michael Miltenberger tabled a document outlining where the NWT government’s infrastructure priorities lie in 2016-17.

Introducing the document, highlights picked out by Miltenberger included:

  • $91 million “to seek appropriation authority to record the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link project on the GNWT’s balance sheet”;
  • $69 million for the NWT’s highways and winter roads, including some funding for the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway plus the start of recently announced highway projects (which also get federal funding);
  • $60 million for health facility work, including the new Stanton Territorial Hospital;
  • $28 million for community infrastructure; and
  • $20 million to begin replacing the territory’s air tanker fleet for future forest fire operations.

In total, the territory plans to invest $342 million in its infrastructure over the next fiscal year. Over the next week, MLAs will consider and approve the various proposals – allowing contractors and departments time to plan before work begins.

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In full: Read the territory’s full infrastructure spending document (pdf)

One item of note on the territory’s list is money to begin looking at renovations for Yellowknife’s JH Sissons and Mildred Hall schools.

“Members have expressed concerns over the lack of funding allocated to NWT schools in government capital plans,” said Miltenberger.

“In response to these concerns, these estimates include $400,000 to provide planning study funding for school renovations in Yellowknife.”

There is also money for a new sewer line at Sir John Franklin High School, while schools across the territory will receive minor upgrades to improve their lockdown procedures.

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Yellowknife MLAs welcomed the focus on schools.

“I particularly appreciate the minister’s recognition of the need to get after the long overdue Mildred Hall and, particularly, JH Sissons renovations,” said Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, “recognizing that some of the work quite some time ago was not completed. It’s time to get after those.”

Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro was similarly supportive, but added: “Funding for education infrastructure has been woefully inadequate over many years. We have schools everywhere that either need replacement or refurbishing.”

Bromley and Bisaro were the only two Yellowknife or Hay River MLAs afforded time for remarks in the first of several planned sessions to examine these spending proposals in detail.

Bisaro also picked out a line in the territory’s plans for a new 18-bed extended care facility in Yellowknife, due for completion by 2019. However, she told Miltenberger the overall document had “too much emphasis on transportation” with “no concrete expenditure for a power project” at a time when the territory has admitted it needs new options, fast.

Bromley concurred, telling the minister: “I’m a little disappointed at the lack of community energy projects that will address – in a long-term, comprehensive, meaningful way – the cost of both heating and electricity across the Northwest Territories.

“I’m very open to any other way that we can pursue those options, but I don’t see it in the capital plan here. A big disappointment since we’ve been struggling with this for a long time, and although we’ve had a lot of money available, we haven’t really done all that much with it, and a lot of it is left being unspent.”

Other projects in the territory’s plans include:

  • Replacing Aurora College’s student records system;
  • a new fire engine for Hay River;
  • upgrades to the Frame Lake family medical clinic;
  • perimeter fencing for the North Slave Correctional Centre and funds to replace the women’s correctional centre in Fort Smith;
  • better security and more capacity for cells at the Yellowknife courthouse; and
  • runway drainage improvement’s at Hay River’s airport.

This year’s estimates sharply increase

The document tabled on Tuesday also shows the territory’s initial infrastructure spending estimates for the current 2015-16 year, alongside new, revised estimates.

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Not one of the 24 budget lines for revised estimates is lower than the initial estimate. In four departments, the revised estimates for capital spending this fiscal year are more than double the initial estimate.

The Department of Health and Social Services, initially forecast to spend $43.6 million, is now expected to spend almost $73 million in 2015-16. The Department of Transportation’s revised estimate is $151 million, an increase of $40 million on its initial estimate. No explanation of these increases is provided.

In total, the territory’s revised infrastructure spending estimate for 2015-16 is $375 million – nearly $100 million in excess of its initial estimate, $278 million.

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