The Whitehorse City Hall building project has been cancelled.
Mayor Laura Cabott announced the city will not proceed with plans to build a new city hall/transit hub site during a press conference outside city hall April 21.
Construction had been expected to begin in May, but after bids came in close to $10 million over budget, the city decided not to move forward.
As Cabott noted during the press conference, the lowest bid for construction was $32 million, with the city’s approved construction budget at $22 million, $17.4 million of which would have come from federal and territorial funds.
Going ahead with construction would have meant the city’s overall costs on the project would rise from just under $9 million to $19 million.
“We know that with the instability of the current world market and the increasing price of commodities, such as steel, rebar, wood, copper oil, aluminum, we are not comfortable moving forward on this project at this particular time,” Cabott said. “However, the objectives that we set out to achieve by building a new city hall or municipal services building are still outstanding, and it is the goal of the city to achieve those objectives.”
Among those objectives, she highlighted upgrades to city hall to bring it up to standard, the importance of creating a downtown transit hub that will also provide “much needed” public washrooms, and finding room for employees who are now spread out at different locations around town.
The city hall project, budgeted at $26.2 million, 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.
A portion of the current city hall building that was constructed in 1987 would have also seen 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.
With the decision to not move ahead with the plans for a new city hall, Cabott said council and administration are considering options, though she said it’s unlikely possibilities will be clear until the summer, at earliest.
“We need to consider the amount of money that we will receive from the federal and territorial government,” she said. “We need to consider how much that we would use from our reserves. We need to consider how to achieve the objectives that we had set out.”
The city has already spent approximately $1.6 million in design and planning for the new structure.
While its unclear how the city will ultimately proceed, Cabott said upgrades to the current city hall will be required regardless. Mechanical, heating and energy systems no longer operate efficiently, and windows and other features of the building also need work, Cabott said, adding the current building “sucks energy.”
As she pointed out, the city hasn’t put a lot of work into maintenance at city hall in recent years, expecting the plans for a new building would go ahead.
She compared the situation to a vehicle owner with an older car planning to buy a new car in the near future, noting if they changed their minds and decided to keep their older vehicle they would likely need to put some work into it.
Cabott said one of the federal funding sources – the small communities fund – is being extended beyond its 2024 end date to 2027, describing that as “some good news” for the city. The city had been set to receive $15.7 million for the city hall project from that fund.
“That time will now give us an opportunity to look at other options to achieve our objectives,” Cabott said.
Any approvals for options the city chooses would likely come forward in the capital budget for 2023, meaning there would not be any work started until at least the 2023 fiscal year.
And that includes bringing down the popular Mayday tree. The city had planned to cut down the tree, which is nearing the end of its life, that sits outside the Steele Street side of city hall as part of the construction project, an issue that garnered much public interest in 2022.
It’s not clear exactly when the tree was planted in memory of Martha Black, the territory’s first female MP and only the second woman in the country to be elected MP, but the typical lifespan is between 60 and 80 years.
Last summer, residents lined up around the city block to receive seedlings from the tree the city provided in an effort to ensure the tree lives on in new ways throughout the city.
Cabott said the tree will have to come down at some point, but with the city hall plans off the table for now, it won’t happen this year.
“We do know that this tree is coming to the end of its life, but it’s obviously not coming to the end of its life this year,” Cabott said.
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