Whistle Bend facility site 'terrible', says engineer

'I think the minister should be fired for picking this site,' says civil engineer Robert Wills, after checking out the spot chosen for the Whistle Bend continuing care facility in Whitehorse.

'I think the minister should be fired for picking this site,' says Robert Wills

Construction underway at the site of the planned Whistle Bend continuing care facility. It's scheduled to open in 2018. (CBC)

The heavy machinery is hard at work, digging the foundation for the Whistle Bend continuing care facility in Whitehorse — and stirring up more debate over the suitability of the site.

"It's just a terrible site," said civil engineer Robert Wills, as he surveyed the area from a nearby hilltop. 

"I'm just startled that we're here talking about it, why we've chosen that site."

'As a taxpayer, I’m really concerned with the amount of money being spent on this project and not fulfilling the stated goals,' says civil engineer Robert Wills. (CBC)

Wills believes there's too much "questionable material"  clay or silt that makes it difficult for construction machinery to move on, and also doesn't allow for adequate water drainage. That could mean flooding in the planned 2-story underground parkade, he says.

"In the North, you have to get rid of the water, otherwise you're in trouble.

"I think the minister should be fired for picking this site."

Debate over site

The 150-bed facility has been a hot topic of debate since the government first announced the project, two years ago.

Critics have complained about the size and cost of the facility, and its location, saying that in Whistle Bend it will be too far from city services. 

Government officials have also voiced reservations about the Whistle Bend site. Internal documents obtained last year by CBC showed that it was deemed the least desirable among several sites being considered — the others being in Porter Creek, Riverdale and Copper Ridge.

Whistle Bend has "high silt contents" and a water table which could lead to frost heaves and a foundation there would "consume significant project budget," according to a May 2014 briefing note to the minister.

'It's a very dusty site,' Wills said. 'When this material gets wet and soft, it may compress, it may settle.' (CBC)

Robert Wills feels that assessment was spot-on. He says the silt in the soil means the building needs a larger foundation for stability, something that would not have been needed if it was built in Porter Creek.

"You'd probably be looking at a completed building now [in Porter Creek]. They would have built on rock, and it would be done."

Former Minister of Health Doug Graham, however, has firmly stood by the decision to opt for Whistle Bend, saying the project is one of the things he's most proud of as a government minister.

No problem, says geotech consultant

Matt Kokan of GeoPacific Consultants, who's working with the contractor PCL Construction on the project, dismisses any concerns about the silt or clay on the site.

A design illustration of the planned Whistle Bend continuing care facility. (Yukon government)

He acknowledges the need for "some special site preparation measures," but says otherwise, no problem.

"All the bidders put prices in to build it, and not one of them came back and said 'our engineers told us there would be issues building on this material.'

"If you don't like clay, stay out of the prairies. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba — everything's built on clay."

The facility is scheduled to open in 2018.

With files from Nancy Thomson