Two years after it opened, the city is looking at adding to the operations building to accommodate staff that would move there. (Yukon News file)

Two years after it opened, the city is looking at adding to the operations building to accommodate staff that would move there. (Yukon News file)

A change in plans

With larger city hall project cancelled, officials looks at expanding, renovating and retrofitting existing buildings

The city’s former downtown fire hall could be transformed into a new transit hub.

That’s the concept that was put to Whitehorse city council at its Dec. 5 meeting where Peter O’Blenes, the city’s manager of property management, updated council members on plans coming out of the cancellation of the city’s larger city hall project earlier this year.

Now officials are looking at plans for the new transit hub, energy upgrades to Whitehorse City Hall and an expansion to the city’s operations building to accommodate staff that were moved out of the former Municipal Services Building.

O’Blenes’ report came more than seven months after the city announced the cancellation of that city hall project at Second Avenue and Steele Street that would have seen part of the current city hall and former fire hall on the site demolished. A new city office building and transit hub was planned to replace it. It was budgeted at $26.2 million.

A portion of the current city hall building constructed in 1987 would have also seen significant renovations. The cenotaph on the site at Second Avenue would have also been moved to the Steele Street side of the new building.

The project was cancelled in April when bids came in nearly $10 million over budget.

The plans were part of a building consolidation project in the city that had also included the opening of the operations building in 2020 followed by the closure of the Municipal Services Building on Fourth Avenue, a new fire hall downtown, and the former transit building being converted into space for the parks department.

When the city hall project was cancelled, Mayor Laura Cabott said officials would have to look at options that would allow for necessary upgrades to be made to city hall given that mechanical, heating and energy systems are no longer operating efficiently. Possibilities for a transit hub as well as finding space for staff that had been anticipated to move to the new city hall building were also up for consideration.

The proposed 2023 capital budget and provisional plans to 2026 revealed some of those plans, outlining spending of $900,000 in 2024 and a further $5.4 million in 2026 for an expansion to the operations building to accommodate the 54 staff currently in temporary locations that would move there, along with future employees, estimated at 68 full-time positions to be hired over the next five years.

A commencement report for the operations building work will come forward in the new year to request council’s authorization for the operations building expansion to go ahead, O’Blenes said.

“That’ll define more of what we’re looking for, what the city is looking for, [what] administration is looking for, as well as the potential cost for everything else,” he explained in an interview following the council meeting.

He pointed out the operations building had been designed so that it could be expanded on in the future as the city grows.

“We knew we were going to need it; I just didn’t think we were going to need it within five years,” he said.

The commencement report will clarify the scope of the project and reallocate funding already in place. No additional funding will be sought, O’Blenes emphasized in his report to council.

Funding that was secured for the larger project remains available for the various components being planned.

The administrative building in what would have been the new city hall was allocated $10.7 million from the federal/territorial small communities fund, while another $5 million is available for the city hall energy upgrades also from the small communities fund. Finally a further $900,000 from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program was set aside for the downtown transit hub. Added to those amounts is $8.1 million from city reserves.

As O’Blenes told council, when questioned by Coun. Mellisa Murray, the federal and territorial funding runs out in five years.

“That’s part of the complexity of this project,” he said. “The funding ends on Dec. 1, 2027. We have to have everything to the Yukon government by that time. That includes our warranty period, and then everything else so the time sounds like it’s out there quite a bit, but it’s really not; that timeline is quite tight.”

The plans for the transit hub would see the former fire hall next to city hall on Second Avenue repurposed for a heated space for transit users that would also feature accessible public washrooms. A consultant working on the hub and city hall projects “will be identifying any potential impacts to the building structures and energy systems and options to achieve a higher operating efficiency.”

Energy modelling will also be done to move forward with request for proposals on the design for the transit hub in spring 2023 and for the design and build of the city hall energy retrofit project in the summer of 2023.

It’s anticipated work could begin in 2024 with the expansion to the operations building taking about 18 months to complete and about a year for the city hall and transit hub projects.

O’Blenes noted material costs are starting to come down from earlier this year and he’s hopeful local contractors will be available to bid on the projects.

“We’re optimistic that we’re going to get a fairly decent quote and that there’s some availability in town,” he said.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at