The city’s manager of property management Peter O’Blenes reviews plans for a new Whitehorse City Hall during a technical briefing Feb. 10. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

The city’s manager of property management Peter O’Blenes reviews plans for a new Whitehorse City Hall during a technical briefing Feb. 10. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Tender released for new Whitehorse city hall

Bids due March 9

The City of Whitehorse has released the tender for the building of a new city hall and is aiming to award the contract in March.

Peter O’Blenes, the city’s manager of property management, provided an update on the project during a technical briefing Feb. 10.

He noted that while a deadline of March 9 has been set for bids, that could be extended by a couple of weeks if the city is hearing a need for an extension from contractors.

The plans

With the new city hall building — which includes a new services structure and transit hub along with city hall — to be constructed on the site of the current city hall, O’Blenes said a May 7 date has been established for staff to be out of the building and based in new locations while the contractor awarded the project will take over the site for the demolition, renovation and construction on the current site.

Exactly where the approximately 40 positions based out of city hall will be moved isn’t clear yet, though O’Blenes said they won’t all necessarily end up working out of the same location.

As O’Blenes explained, the city has narrowed its search down to about three sites, but the city will not be releasing details until plans are confirmed.

“May 7 is our target date to have everybody moved out and relocated elsewhere in the city,” he said. “Where they’re going, that’ll be another announcement and we will make that when that time comes.”

The entire project is budgeted at $26.2 million.

At earlier council meetings, Coun. Ted Laking has taken issue with the rising cost of the project and had been planning a motion that would have halted the project in favour of looking at alternatives or taking other measures to ensure no further increases.

In late January, when it became clear the motion would not pass, and Coun. Dan Boyd suggested a council and administrative roundtable discussion on a management plan for the project, Laking opted not to move forward with his motion.

The roundtable discussion has not yet been held.

A rendering of the proposed new city hall/services building and transit hub. (City of Whitehorse/Submitted)

A rendering of the proposed new city hall/services building and transit hub. (City of Whitehorse/Submitted)

Three projects become one

In reviewing the project, O’Blenes said the plans came out of the building consolidation plan, an initiative that aims to move city employees from a number of smaller locations to fewer, larger sites.

It has already seen the opening of the operations building off Range Road, which moved many staff and equipment out of the downtown Municipal Services Building as well as Transit, which was based in Marwell, to the new building.

A new downtown fire hall also opened, moving staff from the firehall next door to city hall to the new, larger site off Black Street.

Parks staff are set to move to the former transit building in Marwell with renovation work planned for that building as well.

The current plans for the new city hall structure come from three separate building projects.

“Originally, a new services building was planned as part of the building consolidation initiative with extensive renovations planned for city hall. A downtown transit hub was also in the works,” O’Blenes said.

“So in 2019 we had the approval and working with council and senior administration, we went out and got some design concepts done,” he said. “We hired a consultant, a design consultant to do that. And they came back with several different iterations, but the one that was settled upon was one where we incorporate the city services building with city hall and a transit hub. So all three of those projects then become one project.”

A budget of $20.8 million was approved for the project that would incorporate all three plans.

As more detailed designs were being done, which involved structural engineering work, it became clear the original portion of city hall, built in 1966, could not simply be renovated.

“It would not meet the needs in the code,” O’Blenes said, noting that demolishing the older portion of city hall in favour of a complete rebuild became the least expensive option, though the change in scope brought the budget up to $24.7 million.

Extensive renovations to the portion of city hall built in 1987 will also be done.

Inflation challenges

The change in scope to demolish the 1966 portion of city hall was approved by council in June, but since then inflation has taken its toll bringing the cost up to the current estimate of $26.2 million.

“There had been little change to the design and scope of this building … what changed in that aspect is inflationary rates have skyrocketed and we’re in a red hot market for building construction,” O’Blenes said. “Labour is tough to get. Construction, skilled labour is tough to get, so prices are going up. We know supply chain, all through the world have really increased a lot of costs. We all know that lumber costs have gone up dramatically.”

Even keeping the project at $26.2 million has meant some alterations to the plans. A portion of the second floor will be built as shelled space to be developed at a later date and changes to some of the smaller details (using wood instead of stainless steel for railings, for example) allowed the city to save $2.6 million.

Putting off the project would mean foregoing funding that’s been approved through the federal small communities fund, which saw the federal government pay for 75 per cent while the territory contributed 25 per cent to approved projects. That fund is no longer available and any projects that were approved under it must have accounting information submitted by March 31, 2024.

Funding

The small communities fund is set to put $10.7 million towards the services building and $5 million to the city hall upgrade. The Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program will put $450,000 towards the transit hub and Yukon Good Energy is set to fund $1.275 million for the heating system.

That means, if the project meets its budget, the city will spend $8.77 million from its reserves.

Interim city manager Jeff O’Farrell emphasized the city will not be borrowing to pay for the project.

“We have approximately $55 million in reserves,” he said. “If you look at the budget for this project, you will see there’s isn’t any reference to any borrowing for this project. That combination of drawing down $9 million from the city’s reserves in addition to all the federal and territorial infrastructure funding means that we don’t have to borrow in order to finance this project.”

It’s anticipated, if things go ahead as planned, the new building would open in January 2024.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Whitehorse city council