taxpayers build white elephant

The Yukon government has spent, at the moment, $31 million on the athlete’s village. That is a pile of money.

The Yukon government has spent, at the moment, $31 million on the athlete’s village.

That is a pile of money.

And it is an extraordinary amount of money for a dorm.

A dorm the territory only needs for two weeks.

Let’s put it in perspective … the place cost $220 a square foot to build.

So, take your average 2,000-square-foot Whitehorse residential home and turn it into an industrial camp trailer. Voila, it’s now worth $440,000. Oh, that’s without the land.

So, if nothing else, this project has raised the bar on property values.

But we digress…

In case you missed it, the Yukon government spent $31 million to assemble a structure it needs for just two weeks.

Last week, Premier Dennis Fentie bragged the project was on time and on budget.

He was leading with his chin.

So let’s consider his claim for a moment.

The territory has known since the fall of 2001 that the Canada Games were coming to Whitehorse.

We built the pool and the Canada Games Centre to accommodate the events.

And officials knew 1,600 athletes, coaches and hangers on participate in those Games.

We knew we had to put them somewhere.

So why did it take until 2005 for construction to begin on the village?

The long-term planning was flawed.

Put another way, somebody screwed up.

So, to complete the structure before the athletes and coaches arrived, Fentie had to whip out the territory’s chequebook.

He was at the mercy of the builders. It cost the territory a small fortune.

Sure, it will now be completed, mostly, before the athletes arrive. But to suggest it is on time stretches credibility.

In fact, in the days following Fentie’s announcement, we learned that Atco was six weeks behind on delivery of its trailers.

On time? Nope.

Fentie also said it was on budget.

It should be noted the initial budget was $2.7 million.

At the time, the scheme was to lure contractors to build a huge hotel, or some other monstrosity, using the $2.7 as bait.

When the project was complete, the contractor would get the money and the building.

But no business took the bait.

So the project had to be recast.

Government jumped in, dithered and, in the end, ran out of time.

It invited bids for camp trailers.

There are only a handful of companies capable of building such units.

The government received two bids, and went with Alberta-based Atco Group, a company affiliated with Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd.

It bought Atco’s trailers.

Some have asserted that the invitational tender approach guaranteed Atco the job.

A host of other contractors were simply sole-sourced contracts.

And the cost ballooned.

Now, consider the Whitehorse hospital cost about $50 million.

The full-blown Canada Games Centre — a fairly sophisticated building with a pool, rinks, indoor tracks and other stuff — was roughly $45 million.

Copper Ridge Place, another medical facility designed with special features for seniors, cost in the neighbourhood of $25 million.

The former jail project was estimated in the $20 million range.

A new high school, about $25 million.

And here is this simple dorm costing $31 million.

To be used for two weeks. After that, things get fuzzy.

The building will be modified for use as affordable housing and college dorm space. Or something.

Organizers should have approached the Canadian military about upgrading the cadet camp 20 minutes south of town.

That wouldn’t have cost $31 million, guaranteed.

If I were Fentie, I wouldn’t be talking up this project too loudly.

It is a boondoggle, plain and simple. (RM)