Whitehorse council mulls new plans after scrapping city hall reconstruction project

Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott in front of city hall last April announcing the decision to cancel a city hall reconstruction project after the lowest bid came in at least $10 million over budget. Council is now considering a new plan for three separate projects — to build more office space, make city hall more energy efficient, and build a new transit hub. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)

Whitehorse city council is considering a $15-million plan to add more office space to its operations building, after an earlier, more costly plan to reconstruct city hall was scrapped.

City staff presented the plan to council on Monday. The proposal would see the new operations building, which opened on Range Road in 2020, expanded to include offices for the city's administrative staff.

"Right now we do not have enough office space and the city has been growing," said Peter O'Blenes, the city's manager of property management.

"So we're in need of about 60 places for office staff right now. Currently they're scattered throughout the city and old buildings or leased property, and we're trying to consolidate all that."

Mike Rudyk
Mike Rudyk

In 2021, the city announced a plan to reconstruct the city hall downtown, as a more energy-efficient, all-in-one administration building. The project would have involved tearing down the old fire hall and original city hall building, both of which date back to the 1960s. The new building would also have included a new transit hub.

Last spring, Mayor Laura Cabott announced that plan had been scrapped, as the lowest bid the city received was more than $10 million over the city's approved budget of $24.5 million.

"With the instability of the current world market and the increasing price of commodities such as steel, rebar, wood, copper, oil, aluminum, we are not comfortable moving forward on this project at this particular time," Cabott said at the time.

New option 'kind of stood out,' manager says

The new proposal would see that $24.5-million budget now divided between three separate projects — about $15 million for the expansion of the operations building, about $8 million for renovations to make city hall more energy efficient, and $900,000 for a downtown transit hub.

City staff are proposing to solicit bids for the operations building expansion starting in March. Construction would begin next year and be complete by November 2026. Council will vote next week on whether to proceed with that part of the plan.

The other two projects — energy efficiency renovations at city hall, and the new transit hub — are expected to be back before council in the coming months.

"When we looked at different options that we had throughout the city, this was one that kind of stood out," O'Blenes said of the new plan.

Philippe Morin/CBC
Philippe Morin/CBC

"We had designed [the operations building] for it to be able to expand, for both administration as well as equipment, on the south end. This has come a little sooner than we anticipated, but it fits in with our growth."

Cabott lauded city staff on Monday for coming up with a workable new plan.

"We hit a wall when we couldn't proceed with our original plan project but we promised the citizens that we would come up with something, 'cause these were things that we ultimately needed to do," the mayor said.