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Grise Fiord workers have 'nowhere else to go'

Jillian Dickens
Northern News Services

Grise Fiord (Apr 03/06) - "If we do get lung cancer, or another disease, I'd blame this building for it."

Jimmy Qaapik, the economic development officer and municipal liaison officer (MLO) for Grise Fiord, doesn't like his office space, but says he doesn't have a choice to work there because there are no alternatives.

He has worked in the building known as the GN building since the late 1980s. The building houses hamlet employees, including Qaapik, the MLO trainee and the income support worker, Nunavut Power and the hunters and trappers organization. Plus, the open area in the centre is used by pretty much every group in the community for one reason or another.

Every group pays the GN rent for office space, except the HTO, which is using a part of the building that was condemned after a small fire in one of the two bathrooms left damage.

"It's bursting at the seams," says senior administrative officer Will Ferguson.

Hamlet assistant SAO Marty Kuluguqtuq says it's crazy the building is still being used.

It's just a few old trailers that were shipped up in the 1960s, originally used as the health centre, he says. When a new centre was built in the 1980s, the community asked the then department of local government if, rather than demolishing it, they could use it as office space.

The insulation has never been replaced, and there is no constant temperature. The furnace is loud and the air is dry, stale and has no circulation, Kuluguqtuq says.

"The building code is not the same now as it was then in terms of asbestos, electrical and heating," says Kuluguqtuq. "From floor to ceiling it is not up to code."

Although no studies have been done into any of these claims, Kuluguqtuq says "I'm not an engineer, but I don't think it takes an engineer to realize these problems exist."

Qaapik agrees.

"The government contracts out cleaners but the cleaners have no vacuum. Nothing has been vacuumed for years and years. It's very dusty," he says.

"I've taken parts of the old carpet out because they were moldy. It's not really safe for young kids to play on the floors for health reasons."

They continue to work there because there is no where else to go, says Qaapik.

"What can we do?"

The hamlet attempted to access a couple of vacant houses in town, but backed away from the idea because there was "too much red tape."

"By the time we went through with it all, the buildings would no longer be vacant," says Ferguson.

They are also speaking with the hotel about leasing out a couple rooms to use as offices.

"That would be a lot better. But if we get kicked out and have no offices, we will have to work out of our homes, or make little matchbox offices. You know, we have no choice," Ferguson says.

He says he's spoken with the government about repairing the building.

"They said it costs too much money to run so we won't spend anything on it to renovate."

The department of community and government services could not be reached prior to deadline.

Quttiktuq MLA Levi Barnabas brought the issue up in the legislature March 10.

"The government offices in Grise Fiord were once condemned, but today government employees still work out of this building," he said. He could not be reached for further comment.