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Yukon Party tries to blow whistle on Whistle Bend school budget

A briefing note obtained by the official opposition indicates the total capital requirement for the school is up to $52.8 million
The lot that will be home to Whistle Bend school is seen in October 2021. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)

The new Whistle Bend school could cost more than previously anticipated, according to a document obtained by the official opposition.

A Yukon government briefing note on the new school, dated Nov. 22, 2021, was obtained by the Yukon Party and shared with reporters on April 11.

The briefing note indicates — and the department confirmed in an email — the total capital requirement for the first new Whitehorse elementary school in over 20 years is up to $52.8 million.

In 2019, the Yukon government issued and then cancelled a tender related to the construction of the Whistle Bend elementary school. The News previously reported a section of the document outlined the scope of the work, including an estimated construction budget of $32 million, not including consulting costs.

Ketza Construction Corporation was awarded the $42.8-million design-build contract in August 2021.

An October 2021 Yukon government news release stated the school is set to accommodate 425 students from Kindergarten to Grade 7.

Spokesperson Diana Dryburgh-Moraal of the Department of Highways and Public works explained in an April 12 email statement the contract means a single company is contracted for both design and construction of the project.

“The Whistle Bend School design-build tender closed at a time of near-peak prices for lumber and steel, which are key materials for the project,” Dryburgh-Moraal said in an email.

“Capital construction costs are also increasing globally as a result of pandemic-related supply chain issues and market fluctuations.”

In the email, Dryburgh-Moraal said groundwork has begun on the school, which is expected to be completed in winter 2023-24.

Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent brought up questions on the topic during question period April 11.

“Can the minister tell us why the project is almost $21 million over budget?” Kent asked.

Nils Clarke, the minister of Highways and Public Works, said the school will be “state of the art” with “lots of environmental attributes that will make it incredibly energy efficient.”

Kent then asked “how much of these cost overruns are due to the First Nation procurement policy?”

Clarke said the cost of $42.8 million “reflects increased costs for building materials like lumber and steel as a consequence of the unjust, unlawful and barbaric invasion by Russia into Ukraine.”

It was value-driven procurement, he said.

“In this case, the winning bidder earned points for their schedule, training plans, subcontracting plans, northern experience and First Nation participation,” Clarke said. “To the best of my knowledge, as of today, this project is on that budget and on time.”

Kent pointed out the briefing note is dated three months before the war on Ukraine started.

“It’s clear the Liberals have mismanaged this project’s budget and are taking taxpayers for a ride,” Kent said.

Clarke told the House that he is not going to take lessons from the Yukon Party on how and when to build schools.

When speaking with reporters in the legislative building following question period, Kent did not say what would justify a cost increase, citing a lack of information from the government on the subject.

— With files from Jackie Hong

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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