Whitehorse mulls larger, $55M operations building plan

Whitehorse mulls larger, $55M operations building plan

City of Whitehorse officials are recommending an immediate expansion to plans for a municipal operations building, inflating the project's price tag to $54.9 million.

"The timing is now," said Wayne Tuck, manager of the city's engineering services department. "We have to revise our design drawings before we go to tender, to incorporate the transit [storage]."

The city has long planned a new operations building for city equipment and services. The intention was to start with a $45 million facility, to be built on Range Road. A transit storage facility for the city's 15 buses was to be added sometime down the road.

Now city planners want to get it all done without delay, because the $9.2 million transit expansion can be mostly paid for with federal gas tax money (about $8.6 million, according to city estimates).

"We are blessed with the gas tax opportunity, with the funding provided by the federal government to make this a viable option," Tuck said.

Tuck said another reason to fast-track plans for the transit facility is that the construction industry in Whitehorse may soon be in a fallow period. Several major projects — the hospital expansion, the new F.H. Collins School, the Salvation Army shelter — are complete or nearing completion, he said.

"So we have this gap in the building industry. And then building this building now creates the opportunity for continued employment in the construction industry, and the contractors that rely on that.

"It's a win-win situation for everyone, on this expansion."

Councillors will vote next week whether to accept the new plan, and put it out to tender.

'Most significant decision of this city's history'

The transit expansion may be mostly covered by gas tax money, but the larger operations building will require the city to borrow, and dip into reserve funds. 

Of the $45 million originally budgeted for that, $15.2 million was to be paid for with gas tax funds, and $11.6 million from reserves. The remaining $18.8 million would be borrowed.

Councillor Samson Hartland said that would double to city's net debt.

"The decision to issue a tender coming forward next week is going to be the most significant decision of this city's history. You know, this will have ramifications on the taxpayer for the next 20 years, if not longer," Hartland said. 

If councilors accept the plan, the project will go to tender next month. Construction would begin this summer and likely take about a year and a half to two years to complete, Tuck said.