Lack of work forces Dawson construction company to export labour

Last January, John Mitchell was worried. The manager of Han Construction was planning at least $4 million worth of construction projects in Dawson…

Last January, John Mitchell was worried.

The manager of Han Construction was planning at least $4 million worth of construction projects in Dawson City for 2005, and didn’t know where he was going to find the labour to complete the work.

Mitchell needed skilled employees to build a new daycare for the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, an interpretive centre in Tombstone Park and a new Yukon government administration building.

The proposed bridge and new medical centre, as well as continued construction of Dawson’s visual arts school and the Westmark Hotel, would have swallowed up any extra available workers.

“I’ve never seen a season shape up like this one,” said Mitchell.

Fast forward to December 2005 and Mitchell was singing a different tune.

Han Construction has been forced to export supervisors to Pelly Crossing, Carmacks and Carcross to fulfill building contracts in other communities.

None of the proposed construction projects Han was contracted to build moved forward in 2005.

“One by one every one of those dropped off the screen,” Mitchell said recently.

“The indication we were given both on the daycare and on the office building, that they were so much of a sure thing that we went in last fall and actually laid the foundation and did the dirt work on both sites so we could start in March.

“For once in our construction life we figured we were ahead of the game, and it came to absolutely nothing.”

So what happened?

The bridge project is a bust because of a lack of political will and an underestimated budget.

The proposed medical centre also has moved no closer to completion.

“It evolved on its own with ties to Watson Lake,” said Mitchell.

“They were trying to boiler-plate a design down there that they could reuse up here. It never went at all.”

The First Nation delayed construction of the daycare for a year because it is searching for $1 million in money from Ottawa to build it.

“The decision was made to take the winter off. The construction will be delayed until spring to see if the First Nation can get some of the (federal funding),” he said.

The proposed government building has been buried in bureaucracy because of budgeting and design issues, he said.

“The evaluated costs for that project came in way over what the estimated project budget was.”

The government failed to take into account a higher cost of living and cost of materials in Dawson compared to Whitehorse when it budgeted for the building, he said.

Also, the bids for the mechanical systems received from three Outside companies were more than double the $250,000 originally budgeted for the building.

That’s because of a hot construction market right across Western Canada, said Mitchell.

“There is so much work going on in Whitehorse that if a subcontractor is going to come out to the communities, they are going to want it to be worth their while a little bit more.”

Exploding material costs may soon put this project — now estimated to cost $2 million — out of reach.

“A year ago I would have said it is 15 per cent less than that. The price is changing so fast it is difficult for us.”

The cost of Gyprock and steel is anticipated to jump another 15 per cent in January, and quotes from southern suppliers are only good for up to 30 days, he said.

“That’s pretty hard when you are trying to plan something that’s half a year away.”

A scaled-down design is now being negotiated between the Tr’ondek Hwech’in’s business corporation and the government.

“Right now, (chief Darren Taylor) is still talking with YTG to see if we can get the project we started.”

Design changes have also hampered the Tombstone interpretive centre, which would be built on First Nation land within Tombstone Park boundaries.

The government performed the original project design, then passed it over to the Tr’ondek Hwech’in for completion.

“It was a low-impact building, looking at recycling the wastewater, recycling the batteries, solar power and so on,” said Mitchell.

“When the First Nation inherited that, they proceeded on those specs. As it turned out, we even went a little greener because that seemed to be the catch phrase.”

The government decided against an environmentally-friendly structure after the First Nation had completed the design.

“The government came back and said, ‘We really don’t want that. We want a regular house with a diesel generator running it,’” said Mitchell.

“Even though we were proceeding on their specifications, they got all changed around.”

So the project has gone back to a design team, though Mitchell is optimistic it will be built next year.

“Our indications are that the government has finally decided the time has come.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, pictured at a press conference in October, announced three new cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 20 as well as a new public exposure notice. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New COVID-19 cases, public exposure notice announced

The new cases have all been linked to previous cases

Chief Superintendent Scott Sheppard of the Yukon RCMP speaks to media in Whitehorse on Nov. 19, about Project MUSKRAT which has been ongoing since December 2017. Yukon RCMP have charged five Whitehorse individuals and seized $450,000 in cash along with drugs, prohibited weapons and stolen goods after acting Nov. 4 on search warrants obtained during the three-year-long investigation. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Yukon RCMP seize $450,000 and stolen goods in Whitehorse drug bust

Five individuals have been arrested and released on conditions.

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read