Inside the new City of Whitehorse operations building, construction crews of about 40 people on any given day move throughout the maze of hallways and large open spaces, some finishing up flooring work, others moving materials from one space to another.
Large piles of dirt are strategically placed around the 11,567-square-metre structure, ready for landscaping.
Progress on the building is evident, though far from the original expected completion date of Jan. 31. A series of change orders to the project resulted in a new schedule and a budget increase of more than $500,000 approved by Whitehorse city council in June. That brought the building cost up to $39.7 million, though that remains under the $43 million the city had expected to spend on construction.
As project manager Wayne Tuck pointed out during an Aug. 14 tour, difficulties are to be expected, particularly with this being one of the largest projects in the city’s history.
“There’s always challenges,” he said, highlighting the work is in full swing and approximately 100 staffers, starting with the fleet division, will begin a phased move-in starting in October.
Operations, transit, water and waste services, human resources and engineering services will eventually be based there.
Other city departments are also set to shift locations in the years ahead.
Parks staff, for example, will eventually be based out of the current transit building in Marwell.
A new fire hall will be built downtown with the current Second Avenue fire hall and city hall set for major changes as the city plans a services structure in the space and a retrofit to city hall. The services building will house departments that deal with the public every day, such as planning.
Once staff is out of the Municipal Services Building on Fourth Avenue, that structure will likely be demolished and the land sold.
It’s all part of the city’s consolidation effort to better centralize city services.
The focus now is on finishing the operations building, with the fire hall being built next year while planning continues on the services building and city hall.
Paving of the road to the operations building off Range Road wrapped up in July. A side door to the building enters into what will become office space and meeting rooms for inside workers.
Those rooms will feature glass walls positioned for sunlight to come in from larger hallway windows. Staff will have the option of drawing blinds for privacy, but Tuck is anticipating far fewer lights turned on through the day.
“There’s all this natural light,” he said, pointing up to skylights throughout the structure.
The building also takes advantage of the sun’s energy with solar panels to help power the building along with more conventional power.
Officials had considered using biomass, but at this point it would be too costly, Tuck said. It isn’t being ruled out for the future with space identified for boilers.
Beyond the office space, Tuck highlighted a large open space as the main public entrance. It’s not anticipated there will be a lot of traffic from your average resident, but the departments based there deal with contractors on a regular basis.
There are also those contractors working on city projects who come to the city warehouse if they need something for the project that they would otherwise be waiting on to be shipped in.
Another large open space will eventually be a lunchroom and kitchen — with a smaller one on the other side of the building for outside staff. As Tuck explained, outside workers will have access to the larger space, but the smaller one is closer to their work area if they want to grab a quick bite to eat.
A series of lockers are installed and covered in protective plastic, with bench anchors in place behind walls of brick installed by-hand. The locker rooms also feature showers.
Among other offerings to workers is inside bike storage as well as outdoor bike racks for those who pedal to work. Many already cycle to work and Tuck is expecting that will increase as many won’t have to travel downhill to the downtown and then back up after their work day.
Moving through to the other side of the building, Tuck noted the vehicle and equipment bays that will store the city’s equipment.
Space for mechanical work will no longer require a constant moving of vehicles as they are worked on. There’s room for short-term routine work with additional space where vehicles undergoing long-term work, or waiting on a part, can remain.
Outside workers will come in through an entry way where they can take off wet outer gear before heading inside the main building.
Outside, Tuck pointed to another building — large enough to fit three vehicles for washing. The wash bay had originally been planned as part of the larger building, then proposed for another part of the property before further work determined this as the right spot where vehicles can drive through the wash bay to be cleaned before coming back to the operations building.
The wash bay location has been the subject of controversy as neighbouring Trans North Helicopters says it makes it difficult for the company to meet federal regulations on how far it can fly from a building if it is to take off and land at its site. The city maintains the plans received approval from NAV Canada before the building was erected and TransNorth did not raise the issue until after construction. City officials also said they haven’t seen anything from NAV Canada about the situation.
The matter saw Trans North opt to move from its property in the fall.
Meanwhile, the city is continuing consolidation work and planning for the future. With that in mind, it has identified a number of areas on the operations building property where expansion could happen if needed, Tuck said.
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