Earth moves under Whistle Bend continuing care facility

Problems in the ground have halted work on two parts of the multi-million-dollar continuing care facility being built in Whistle Bend.

Problems in the ground have halted work on two parts of the multi-million-dollar continuing care facility being built in Whistle Bend.

Frost heaves at both the southwest and northeast “houses” are to blame, said the Department of Highways and Public Works.

The extent of the problem won’t be clear until the ground thaws and experts come in to take a closer look.

The workers who were sent home a week ago are expected to be back on site by the end of the week, said department spokesperson Brittanee Stewart. They’ll be working on other parts of the building, she said.

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn said he was first informed about problems with the building’s foundation about 10 days ago.

In one spot workers were preparing to put up part of the steel structure.

“We don’t know what’s causing it. But (the builder) PCL decided it was probably not a good idea to put the steel up on that section, from what I understand, until they figure out what’s going on with the foundation,” Mostyn said.

Frost heaves, created when the ground freezes and swells, are common when building in the North, Stewart said.

“Building in a northern climate, it’s something that’s considered as part of the building.”

They were a known risk when the previous Yukon Party government chose the site to build the $146-million, 150-bed, facility.

A 2014 geotechnical evaluation of possible sites found “frost susceptible soils” at the Whistle Bend location.

“There are two common methods to eliminate the risk of frost heave under the foundation including the removal of fine grained material and/or the installation of a thick layer of rigid insulation extending down and out from the exterior wall of the building,” the report said.

Questions about what PCL has done to eliminate the risk of frost heaves under the building were not answered by deadline.

Mostyn said every company that bid to design and build the continuing care facility in Whistle Bend, including PCL, had a copy of that geotechnical report.

“They had that information and I have every confidence that they’ve taken that black and white report and incorporated it into their plans.”

For now the department is saying the facility remains on budget and on time with a completion date of spring 2018.

But the minister’s confidence as to whether it will stay that way appears less than absolute.

“As they assess this problem and know more about what it is, things could of course change. Any reasonable person looking at this would say that,” Mostyn said.

“I’m not going say ‘yes, it’s going to be (on budget).’ I don’t know, nobody knows what’s going on at the site and until they do we can’t say.”

There’s no word on how much money is left in the project’s contingency fund. Mostyn estimates the building is about 30 per cent complete.

For now the minister has asked his department to do an engineering assessment. That work will be done by someone who is not connected to the Whistle Bend project, he said.

The assessment will start “fairly soon” but Mostyn didn’t know when it’s going to be completed.

He’s not sure if the public will be allowed to see to see the full report.

“I will be communicating the results of the report. But I might not actually release the report.”

Mostyn said if he can’t release the entire report to the public, he will provide a reason.

The department says the newly uncovered foundation problems are not close to the site where drainage issues forced a rethink of plans for parking.

Last year, plans for a two-storey parking garage had to be reduced after builders were mistakenly told groundwater could be drained into city storm sewers.

The decision to build the continuing care facility in Whistle Bend has been a source of controversy almost since the moment it was announced by the former Yukon Party government.

The government of the time was accused of wanting to warehouse seniors in an underdeveloped neighbourhood away from their communities.

Mostyn said he doesn’t want to “armchair quarterback” the decision to build in Whistle Bend.

“I would have liked it to have gone off without a hitch. Unfortunately those aren’t the cards I’ve been dealt. So I am dealing with the cards I’ve been dealt.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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