The city’s historic Mayday tree will come down, but that isn’t likely to be the end of its story.
At Whitehorse city council’s June 7 meeting, the future of the tree was the focus of much discussion after council was presented with updated plans and a price tag for the proposed city hall/services building and transit hub structure.
The plans for the building would see the older section of city hall and the fire hall at the Second and Steele Street site demolished with a new services building/city hall and transit hub built by late 2023/early 2024. The plans are priced at an estimated $24.7 million with council set to vote next week on the budget change and having the tender go ahead.
It was Coun. Samson Hartland who brought up the future of the tree, as he has done previously, noting that it seems like there may be “multiple futures” for the tree.
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.
City staff confirmed, once again, that the tree is at the end of its life and the city’s parks crew is working closely with the Yukon Historical and Museums Association to determine how to best deal with it. Clippings are being collected to be planted at the new city hall building as well as elsewhere in the city.
While it may be an end to this chapter for the tree, there will be other chapters to come, acting city manager Jeff O’Farrell told council.
But how exactly does the city know the tree is at the end of its life, questioned Coun. Laura Cabott.
“It looks pretty healthy to me,” she said, going on to suggest that efforts could have been made to incorporate the tree into the new design of city hall.
“This tree is important,” she said, highlighting the public’s interest in it.
As O’Farrell noted though, there are four strong indicators that the tree is nearing the end. Among them is the work of parks staff in recent years to clip off dead parts of the tree which is happening at an increasing rate, more vertical cracks are forming in the trunk, and the typical life span for such trees are between 60 and 80 years.
O’Farrell also noted that while the tree may appear to be blossoming more, that is often a sign that the tree is reaching the end of its life. He described it as somewhat of a “last gasp” for the tree.
O’Farrell emphasized the decision to bring down the tree as part of the work for the new building was difficult, but ultimately the tree is at the end of its life and will need to come down in the near future regardless.
“It certainly was not a light decision,” he said.
While the future of the Mayday tree was the focus of much of the discussion around the plans for city hall, questions also arose about the plans for biomass heating throughout the new structure.
Peter O’Blenes, the city’s manager of property management, explained the city is anticipating seeking proposals from local businesses that would see the private sector operate the biomass system including providing the wood chips.
There have been discussions with the forestry industry and it’s been confirmed that wood is readily available.
O’Blenes also noted plans for propane and potentially electrical back-up heat would be in place as well.
Mayor Dan Curtis was also quick to note there’s more than “one local player” that can help supply the fuel for biomass production, noting the benefits that would come with local employment.
Meanwhile, other questions around public consultation on the design of the new building were also brought forward by Cabott.
O’Blenes noted the plans for this building come out of the city’s larger building consolidation plan, which is seeing city staff moved to new and renovated city buildings around town. It was during the planning process in 2014 when there was a larger public consultation done on the building consolidation.
Among other building work done or that is happening as part of the consolidation plan was the construction of the operations building off Range Road, the building of the new downtown fire hall, renovations planned for the former transit building in Marwell to be used by parks staff and the closure of the municipal services building on Fourth Avenue. It’s anticipated the municipal services building will eventually be demolished and the land possibly sold.
Specifically, on the services/city hall structure, O’Blenes explained that three conceptual drawings came forward in 2019 and were publicly released with the city ultimately deciding on the current concept.
A technical briefing on the plans was also hosted by the city with local media last week.
Given the 2023 deadline the city has to spend federal funding that has come through for the project, O’Blenes said there likely wouldn’t be time to host an open house — virtual or in-person — to get input on the design.
Coun. Jan Stick noted her excitement for the project, arguing it will create a better workspace for a growing number of city staff. She said she’s also looking forward to the transit hub being built and providing residents with a space to stay out of the weather wile waiting for a bus as well as providing public washrooms.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org