Parkin Blog

Helping a Community in Need: Cape Dorset High School

In the late summer of 2015, Peter Pitseolak High School in Cape Dorset, Nunavut was destroyed by fire.  It was a devastating setback for this tightly-knit community of 1,400 people, just two weeks into the new school year.  Not only did this directly affect the 150 students and 22 staff members, but also the many community members and organizations that used the high school building for meetings and cultural events.

In the short term, the Cape Dorset community, Government of Nunavut, and the local Board of Education were able to temporarily accommodate students’ needs by using the primary school facilities and constructing several portables; however, in the medium- to long-term, there was a significant concern about the time and effort required to build a new high school. Given the harsh environmental conditions of remote Arctic communities like Cape Dorset, the ability to bring in construction materials and the time available to actually construct buildings are severely limited. It is not uncommon for projects that normally take 18 – 24 months to complete in southern regions, to take twice as long in these remote and hard to access communities.

Given these severe limitations and a pressing need to start this project as soon as possible, the Government of Nunavut and the Board of Education turned to the Design Build team of Parkin Architects, Kudlik Construction and Accutech Engineering in order to fast-track a solution.

The Design Build Concept

The design build approach as a model for design and construction is intended to decrease project turnaround time. The key to success with this approach is a clear and instantaneous line of communication among all team members. A design build team comprises professionals who have worked together before, taking advantages of each member’s strengths and knowledge to make the overall process a success.

In the case of the new Cape Dorset High School, the team was able to remove six months of design and development reviews and eight months of construction from the overall timeline. The result was that this approach removed nearly two Arctic construction seasons from an otherwise standard construction schedule. In remote Arctic communities, this would be unthinkable.

An Aggressive Build Timeline

In April 2017, just twenty months after the original high school was destroyed, major work began on laying the foundation for the new school.  Permafrost and Arctic ground conditions often make foundation construction complicated and time-consuming. The most common type of foundation is a raised structure on steel piles, allowing builders to work around the limitations and impact of permafrost. Using this approach, and working seamlessly with all design build partners, the initial foundation was built in record time. Once the concrete foundation was installed, the steel superstructure followed directly behind.

The pace and efficiency of construction continued throughout the summer, taking advantage of the warmer months.  The Design Build team was then able to construct the building envelope by early fall, allowing acceleration of the major interior work.  By the spring of 2018, less than a year after construction started, all interior finishing work was nearing completion –  nearly six to eight months ahead of a standard construction schedule. The summer of 2018 was used to complete all final work, including one full month for building commissioning.  Proudly, the Design Build team was able to complete the project in just 16 months, virtually unheard of for a building of this size and type, in such a location.

New Design Principles Used in Cape Dorset

The use of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) design principles is critically important when considering the design of these spaces. For Cape Dorset High School, our primary objective was to design a welcoming and accessible space to facilitate learning, while keeping in mind that many program spaces would also be used by the community. In such a small and remote community, it’s very important for a building to have a multitude of functions while also supporting the community’s need for communal spaces.

The key design feature of the school is the central gathering area, which is used by the staff and students throughout the day. Included in this space is a combination of built-in seating, and cultural and school display cases which provide the opportunity for school gatherings and community events. The use of natural light and colours creates a welcoming space for both students, staff and the community. A double-sided stage provides a venue for cultural events and has proximity and connection to a fitness centre, canteen, resource centre and, of course, multi-purpose classrooms.

Remarkably, Cape Dorset High School opened to students for the start of their school year in September 2018, one full year ahead of similar traditionally designed and constructed buildings. The success of a design build approach is indisputable. Strong partners with deep expertise, community and government support, and clear lines of communication created a great outcome for the community of Cape Dorset.