Main entrance of the new City of Whitehorse operations building off of Range Road in Whitehorse on Sept. 23. The ribbon was cut for the official opening at a ceremony Sept. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse operations building officially open

Staff are taking phased approach to moving in

It’s been a long time coming — much longer than originally planned, many acknowledge — but the City of Whitehorse has officially opened its new operations building off Range Road.

The ribbon was cut at a ceremony Sept. 24 where capacity was limited to 50 due to social distancing requirements.

“I’m incredibly excited,” Mayor Dan Curtis said of the building being opened during a Sept. 21 interview.

As he stated at the opening ceremony: On behalf of council, both past and present, we’re so proud to finally be able to unveil this beautiful new facility. Our staff have been working in sub-par conditions for a long time so we are very excited to provide them with a modern and spacious work environment.”

He highlighted the more than 1,050 solar panels stationed on the building’s roof that help power the 11,567-square-metre structure, also noting the infrastructure is in place to add biomass heating in the future.

While propane will serve as the main source of heat for now, city project manager Wayne Tuck said in a Sept. 17 interview the city is looking at biomass possibilities as well as partnerships as part of its future planning.

“We’ll see what the options are,” Tuck said.

The solar panels are already accounting for much of the building’s power, Richard Graham, the city’s manager of operations, said Sept. 23.

The building also makes use of natural light with large windows throughout.

Tuck admits getting to the substantial completion of the building has been a challenge with a number of delays over the last five years.

The building that will house the city’s operations, engineering, water and waste services, human resources and transit departments had originally been expected to be finished Jan. 31, 2019, but in August 2018 contractor Ketza Construction informed the city it could not meet the deadline due to 200 change orders made to the project by the city.

It had then been anticipated the building would be finished by mid-September 2019, but mechanical work took longer to finish than anticipated.

A targeted completion date early in 2020 was projected with COVID-19 then taking its toll on deadlines.

Even now as staff continue the phased move-in to the building, there is still paving and landscaping to do and that has seen delays due to the rain over the summer.

Despite the delays the project is on target to come in under the $55-million budget at a cost of $53.5 million, Tuck said.

Of that, $23.06 million is coming from the federal government through gas tax funding.

“Our communities can best serve those who call it home when the spaces they operate out of are modern, efficient, and welcoming,” Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said. “As the city continues to grow and thrive, it is critical that the services, which so many in Whitehorse rely on, are provided as effectively as possible, and the federal government is proud to contribute to help make that a reality.”

Both Curtis and Tuck said staff they have spoken to are happy to be moving into the new operations building and out of the Municipal Services Building on Fourth Avenue.

“They’re really quite pleased,” Curtis said.

As Graham put it: “It’s night and day compared to where we are.”

Vehicles can be driven in and out of the large garage for work that needs to be done and there won’t be the maneuvering around of vehicles that there is now. An overhead crane will make it easier to get parts in and out of vehicles.

There are also features like in-floor heating and more natural light coming in through skylights.

The administrative side of the building is largely an open concept with cubicles for staff as well as a few offices.

The impact of COVID-19 is obvious with signs on each office door showing the maximum capacity for the space at two, three or four depending on the size of the room. Hand sanitizer is stationed throughout the building.

The opening of the operations building brings the city one step closer to its plans to shift staff to better centralize city services.

Parks staff, for example, will eventually be based out of the current transit building in Marwell after transit moves to the operations building.

The new fire hall is being built downtown with the current Second Avenue fire hall and city hall set for major changes as the city plans a services structure in the space and a retrofit to city hall. The services building will house departments that deal with the public every day, such as planning.

Once staff are out of the Municipal Services Building on Fourth Avenue, that structure will likely be demolished and the land sold.

For now, city officials are celebrating the opening of the operations building as efforts continue on centralizing services.

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

Whitehorse

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