Plans have officially been changed for an updated Whitehorse City Hall at Second Avenue and Steele Street.
At Whitehorse city council’s April 13 meeting, members approved a “change of scope” for the project that was originally planned to see a new service building and transit hub constructed along with retrofits to city hall. The fire hall currently on the site will be demolished to make way for the plans, with the new downtown fire hall opened in 2020 — off Black Street — replacing it.
While the new services building and transit hub remain in the plans, the change of scope approved by council will mean demolishing the original 1966 portion of the city hall building west of the Steele Street entrance to Second Avenue.
Renovations would be done to the newer section built in 1987.
It’s expected the changes will require another $3.5 to $4 million to be spent on the project.
As Wayne Tuck, the city’s senior project engineer, explained in an earlier report to council, as planning for the project has continued, it was learned significantly more structural work to the oldest portion of city hall would be required to bring it up to current building codes.
The option of demolishing that part of city hall and rebuilding was the least expensive of three options looked at to deal with the additional work required. It still adds another estimated $3.5 to $4 million above the expected more than $20 million cost of the project.
A total of $15.7 million has been confirmed for various aspects of the project in federal and territorial funds.
The other two options considered — a full renovation of city hall or putting in a steel structure that would encapsulate the 1966 portion of the building — were estimated to cost between $5.5 million and $7 million.
The proposal for the demolition and construction have raised concerns for a number of council members over the cost, with much of the discussion ahead of the vote focused on finances.
When Coun. Dan Boyd questioned whether the city could afford it, director of corporate services Valerie Braga replied by pointing to the funding available through the federal and territorial governments. If the project were not completed by the fall of 2023, the funding would no longer be available.
“That money would be foregone,” she said.
There are also plans to look for other funding sources for the additional amount needed, along with considering city reserves and potential borrowing.
Braga suggested the project cost is “within reason,” given what’s involved.
Coun. Laura Cabott also brought up the issue, as she had at an earlier meeting, wondering again about modifying the design to lower the cost.
As director of development services Mike Gau explained, design changes would impact the schedule.
“This would cause a significant delay,” he said, adding that would, in turn, impact funding.
Gau also said the structure is designed to accommodate future growth.
Support for the plan was also stated, with Coun. Jan Stick pointing out the potential for biomass heating among the features.
“There’s some real advantages in the new plan,” she said.
Coun. Steve Roddick pointed to a potential reduction in operational costs and the need to accommodate future growth, with Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu suggesting if the city doesn’t proceed with the project now, it will likely cost more and still be needed in the future.
It was also pointed out by Coun. Samson Hartland that council will ultimately make a final decision on the project when a more detailed budget amendment comes forward for the work.
Hartland also expressed concerns over part of the plan that will see the city’s historic Mayday tree removed. The tree is planted next to city hall on the Steele Street side in memory of Martha Black, the territory’s first female member of parliament (and second female in Canada to serve as an MP).
It is not clear when the tree was planted at city hall.
Hartland said there’s a number of Whitehorse residents disappointed the tree is not included in the plans for the new city hall.
As city manager Linda Rapp explained though, an assessment has shown the tree is nearing the end of its life and would likely need to be removed in the near future regardless of whether work is done to city hall.
Parks crews have taken samples from the tree, with a goal of planting those.
“I think that’s the best we can do,” she said, acknowledging the tree is an important feature for many Whitehorse residents.
Along with voting for the change of scope, Coun. Dan Boyd pointed out the city hall project is part of a larger building consolidation initiative that’s been underway for years.
Before council’s vote in favour of the change of scope, Boyd called for a technical briefing to be held on the building consolidation. It’s expected that will happen in the near future.
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