Whitehorse city council agreed to put the long-debated, long-awaited operations building to tender at an April 24 meeting.
The decision included the proposed transit addition, which required a budget increase of $9.2 million, $600,000 of which the city will pay for from the building reserve fund. The remaining $8.6 million will come from the gas tax.
Some councillors expressed concerns about how quickly the decision to add on the expansion had been made. Coun. Dan Boyd called the transit expansion “a last minute decision.”
“I have been contemplating for a year almost on how I was going to vote tonight,” said Boyd. “To move from a $45-million project to a $55-million project this quick … I think we’re just moving too quick.”
“We should step back to think about this. I’m struggling, though, because we need to do this.”
“I’m not too keen to spend so much money right now,” said Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu. But she said she didn’t want to put the project off and see the price tag increase later. “I have a hard time finding why we shouldn’t go ahead with this.”
“This project has to go ahead and go ahead at this time,” said Coun. Robert Fendrick.
Coun. Samson Hartland said the city was “doubling down” on the project by investing so much money in a building that does not offer a monetary return and agreeing to triple the net debt.
“In my mind it’s not a question of if, but rather when we will need to increase taxes to accommodate this,” he said.
An additional $412,000 was also allotted to pay for the additional design and consulting necessary to add the transit expansion to the existing operations building design. Boyd called the extra design cost “too expensive for what we’re getting.”
“Some of this extra cost may have been avoided if the city had planned on including the transit garage in the original design,” said Boyd. “Having to add it to the design contract after the design is 90 per cent complete is not a desirable situation.”
Peter O’Blenes, director of infrastructure and operations, countered that “the cost has been negotiated and includes on-site design consultation.… It’s less than the original cost per square foot.”
The increased design cost for the expansion includes adding a transit bay and a wash bay, storage bays for buses, an addition to the previously proposed administration wing into the original design, and increased inspection costs due to the larger size of the building, staff said.
The proposed expansion is “still conditional” on getting gas tax money, said Mayor Dan Curtis. However, Curtis said he doesn’t expect any problems with getting the money or its approval at council, and that the project “is a go.”
“Even though we may have money coming from the heavens, we still have to slow down and show where it’s coming from,” he said. “Essentially, it’s all but done.”
Mike Gau, director of development services, said the city will begin writing its tender agreements to include the expansion before a final decision by council, because the construction season is short and city staff want to be able to go to tender as soon as possible.
The final decision to increase the project’s budget is scheduled for May 8.
At this stage, the final vote is really a formailty, said Curtis.
“This has been 20 years in the coming,” he said.
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