Add kids to the downsizing: One of three Longyearbyen kindergartens closing


There are fewer workers in Longyearbyen since the beginning of year and fewer kids signed up for kindergarten starting this fall. But when adding up the facts, it can’t be said for certain that one plus one equals the two kindergartens that will be open this fall.

Longyearbyen Kindergarten will be closed during the 2015-2016, and the children and staff transferred to the city’s two other major kindergartens and a smaller facility that has been used in the past, city officials announced Monday. The city received 156 applications by the April 15 deadline, not enough to fill the 180 vacancies at the main three kindergartens.

Several alternatives were discussed with union representatives, kindergarten staff and parents, wrote Unn Martinsen, head of the city’s childhood and culture division, in an official decision announcing the closing. Longyearbyen Kindergarten, adjacent to Svalbard Church, was selected for closure due primarily to the condition of the building.

“Longyearbyen kindergarten is a building from 1969 with operational challenges,” he wrote. “It’s drafty, has trouble getting enough radiator heat in cold periods and will require major improvements in insulation. There is not a mounted heat exchanger in the building and lighting needs to be replaced in a department.”

The staff at Longyearbyen Kindergarten will be offered positions at other facilities and “none will be notified they are redundant,” the decision states.

In addition to Polarflokken Kindergarten next to Longyearbyen School and Kullungen Kindergarten in the center of town, the city will also send some children to Formannshuset  which is approved for 24 seats, has good equipment and heating, has previously been used as a nursery department and is ready for use.”

The downsizing continues a trend since the beginning of the year when Store Norske laid off about 100 of its 340 employees after suffering a record loss in 2014 due primary to a coal price slump. Companies providing services to the mining company have been forced to downsize as well and city leaders speculated Longyearbyen would lose up to 250 of its estimated 2,100 residents when family members of those laid off were factored in.

But Martinsen, in an e-mail interview, stated the coal crisis cannot be definitely blamed for the low kindergarten enrollment.

“We do not know the causes of the decline in the number of children,” he wrote.