Yukon Housing should be building houses, says its vice president, Dale Kozmen.
Instead, it’s tearing them down.
The Korbo Apartments in Dawson City are set to be demolished, after 22,000 litres of oil leaked from the building’s fuel system in the autumn.
“This is multiple times worse than we’ve ever experienced,” said Kozmen. “The worst oil spill we’ve had to date has cost us about $100,000, $110,000 – in that range. Now we’re talking about one that’s getting close to $1.9 million. We should be building housing instead of cleaning up.”
The housing corporation realized there was a problem when a fuel tank started sucking up heating oil in October 2010.
Staff pumped enough fuel to fill the tank twice. It still wasn’t full.
It turns out an underground line had been leaking for some time, said Kozmen.
In May, Mayor Peter Jenkins suggested the building be cleaned up and turned into much-needed student housing for the Yukon School of Visual Arts, which runs the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture.
The corporation looked into the cost of cleaning up the spill while keeping the building intact.
It would take five years and cost $1.7 million, said Kozmen.
Demolishing the building and cleaning up the land is cheaper, he said.
But not by much.
Just cleaning up the spill will cost $960,000, said Kozmen.
The demolition costs are still unknown, as the corporation is waiting for a hazardous materials report.
Right now, permafrost is containing the spill, according to a consultant’s report.
And with no wells located nearby, groundwater contamination is not as much of a threat, said Kozmen.
“I think their logic is impaired,” said Greg Hakonson, one of the founders and former president of the arts institute.
The Korbo building is built on pilings, which means the ground underneath is frozen – not contaminated, he explained.
“At some point in history, they dug a trench around the building and backfilled it with gravel,” he said. “So they’ve got a moat. Yeah, the moat’s hugely contaminated. So, just dig the gravel out and refill it again. The building doesn’t have to be torn down to remediate that gravel.”
While he doesn’t hold a degree or licence in design or engineering, Hakonson has a portfolio of Dawson building designs under his belt.
He designed the original and the post-fire Eldorado Hotel. He also worked on the arts school and institute buildings – both of which were salvaged from dilapidated structures.
“The KIAC building was a derelict Oddfellows Lodge and the SOVA building was the old liquor store, territorial building, that had been condemned for the most part of my life,” said the born-and-raised Dawsonite. “We went after it because the government said it wasn’t worth rejuvenating it; that it had to be torn down.
“I went and had a look at it and I said, ‘No. C’mon now. Perfectly good building.’
“I’m sure the Korbo has its grief. It’s probably not the best-built building. It probably does need to be replaced, but I think until someone other than government engineers have a look at it … they’re making a grand assumption that it needs to be torn down.”
The Korbo was built out of stacked trailers, from an old asbestos mine, dating back to the 1950s.
“That’s one of the oldest buildings we have,” said Kozmen. “It’s a substandard building, by our standards and criteria, and the building is actually a number of trailers that were moved from Clinton Creek … and were relocated to Dawson in the 1960s.”
“The plan is to have the old apartments, which sit on a collection of four downtown lots, cleaned up by next fall, he said.
Staff housing located beside the apartments was also affected by the fuel leak and will have to be moved for the cleanup process, he added.
The eight tenants currently still living at the derelict Korbo building will be moved to the new Turner Street Apartments by the end of August. After the waiting list is taken care of, only three vacancies will be left in the new, 19-unit complex, said Kozmen.
The new Turner Street residences are nowhere near enough, said Hakonson, who added that the housing corporation must think the Korbo is good enough because it still has people living there.
“Dawson is in dire need of accommodation now – not tomorrow – it needs it now,” he said. “The SOVA initiative is at risk of closing because we can’t house the students.
“Now is an opportunity to find accommodation for them, even though it may be short-term.
“I think, perhaps, if appropriate people were allowed to look at that building they may find that it’s quite salvageable, just like the Oddfellows building was salvageable and just like the old liquor store was salvageable.
“They’re not relying on local wisdom, again.”
The corporation’s goal is to refurbish six other 40-year-old homes in the same area as the Korbo for affordable or staff housing.
But the first and main priority is cleaning up the Korbo, said Kozmen.
“This is not good news for us,” he said. “But we’re trying to line all the ducks up in a row, and now we’ve got a decision, we can move ahead.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at