Permafrost cost: Long-term fix at Ross River school could require constant power – North

A Yukon school could soon require constant electricity for months of the year to ensure it’s sitting on solid permafrost.   

Cracks like these have appeared as the Ross River school shifts. The damage is not described as structural, but the Yukon government is seeking a ‘long-term solution’ to stabilize the building. (Submitted by Billie Maje)

The ‘active refrigeration system’ would chill the ground under the 2,840-square metre Ross River school. 

The device would be the first of its kind in Yukon. Last week, Yukon Public Works minister Richard Mostyn said the government would assess whether the system was “technically viable and financially responsible.”

It’s not clear how much electricity the device would require or how much it would cost to install — but one Alaska company working in the field suggests it wouldn’t be cheap.

‘It’s basically a giant air conditioner’ 

Electrically-powered permafrost freezers are already being used under some buildings in Alaska, with the technology dating back about 30 years, according to Keith Mobely, who works with Northern Geotechnical Engineering Ltd. in Anchorage. 

Some models cycle liquid refrigerant through coils underground, while others blow cold air directly onto the surface. 

“It’s basically a giant air conditioner,” Mobely says. 

Mobely says the system is usually installed as a last resort. The company’s website notes active systems “can be expensive to operate,” and therefore says it tries to pair them with non-powered systems, like thermosyphons.

One such system is already installed under the Ross River school, though it has not performed to expectations. The school has needed many rounds of renovations to repair damage caused by shifting.

Company pitching idea installed thermosyphon system in 2001

The company pitching the idea has worked in Ross River before. Arctic Foundations Canada installed the current thermosyphon system underneath the school…

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