All three bids that came in for the Whitehorse City Hall reconstruction project were “significantly over budget”, by “at least nearly $10 million.”
In a short statement on April 4, City of Whitehorse officials said the tender for the project, that would see a new and renovated city hall and services building constructed on the current site of city hall, closed March 31 with all bids being over budget.
“The city will be assessing building and space requirement options moving forward,” the statement reads. “An update on the project will be provided over the coming weeks.”
City spokesperson Myles Dolphin stated in an email that the bids ranged between $32 and $39 million for construction only.
Dolphin said he could not name who the bids came from or provide further information as the tender had only recently closed and “the city needs time to assess options moving forward.”
A ‘very measured approach’
Mayor Laura Cabott said in an April 4 interview she was “surprised (and) disappointed” in the amounts listed in the bids, though she also acknowledged it’s not just the city that is faced with such a situation.
“You know, this type of thing is happening all over the world,” she said. “It’s significant events that are occurring globally.”
Cabott added it’s still early and city staff will be looking at all possible options going forward.
“We’ll take a very measured approach and look at all the information and make the best decision,” she said, adding she doesn’t expect anything to come back to council sooner than at least a couple of weeks given the many factors that will have to be considered.
The project, as proposed
The project, which had been budgeted at $26.2 million including construction and other costs such as relocating staff, would see part of the current city hall and former firehall on the site demolished to make way for the new building that will house a number of city staff as well as a new transit hub. A portion of the current city hall building that was constructed in 1987 would also see significant renovations.
The cenotaph on the site at Second Avenue would also be moved to the Steele Street side of the new building.
The city had set a May 7 deadline for staff to be moved from city hall to new locations. Under the project plans, the contractor awarded the project would then take over the site for demolition, renovation and construction of the new city hall.
Increasing costs have been a concern throughout the planning of the project, with changes made since it first came forward as three separate projects – construction of a new services building, renovations to city hall, and the building of a new downtown transit hub.
In 2019, the city moved forward with plans to incorporate the three projects into one that would be built on the site of the current city hall. At that time a budget of $20.8 million was approved.
As more detailed designs, including structural engineering work, were done, it became clear the original portion of city hall, built in 1966, could not be renovated. A change in scope was made to demolish the older portion of city hall in favour of a complete rebuild as the least expensive option to deal with the situation. It brought the cost up to an estimated $24.7 million.
Since that time inflation has taken its toll and the most recent budget had the project at $26.2 million, including construction and associated costs.
Much of the funding is slated to come from other levels of government. The federal Small Communities Fund is set to put $10.7 million towards the services building and $5 million to the city hall upgrade. The Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program would put $450,000 towards the transit hub and Yukon Good Energy is set to fund $1.275 million for the heating system.
That means, if the project was at the $26.2 million mark, the city would spend $8.77 million from its reserves.
Coun. Ted Laking has been vocal about his concerns over the increasing costs. In January, Laking had considered but decided against bringing forward a motion that would have halted the project to look at options ranging from reducing the scope to cancelling it altogether, among others.
At the time, he said he wouldn’t bring the motion forward as it was evident from his discussions with other council members that it would not pass.
He went on to support Coun. Dan Boyd’s proposal for a management plan to be in place for the project, a motion that fellow council members also supported due to increasing costs, concerns around labour shortages and other such issues.
Just a half hour after the city sent out its April 4 statement about the tenders coming in over budget, Laking sent an email to local media highlighting previous statements he’s made on the project, the motion he had considered bringing forward, a 2021 administrative report about the change in scope and a timeline of the project to date.
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