Whitehorse cuts ribbon on $56M operations building

The mayor of Whitehorse says a new building is a show of respect for city workers who have worked in cramped conditions for decades.

Former municipal services building called 'asbestos rat trap'

'In almost a decade, I can honestly say this is my best day,' said Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis as he marked the project's completion. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

When Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis cut the ribbon on Sept 25, he called it the best day of his career.

"It's absolutely amazing. It's something I know a lot of people in the City of Whitehorse could never believe actually happened," he said. 

After a few delays and revisions, and a decade of planning, the city's new operations building is mostly complete, as only work on paving, a fuel station and a vehicle washing bay remains.

It's already the fourth-biggest building in Yukon behind the Canada Games Centre, the Whitehorse Airport and the Yukon University campus.  

And while the final cost is expected to be $56 million, advocates in government like Curtis say it's a good investment, which will reduce spending in the long term and set up the City of Whitehorse to handle future growth.

The building is funded by different levels of government with federal funding expected to come in at $24 million.

The city's contribution of $32 million is a combination of funding from reserves and borrowing, according to the City of Whitehorse.

The City of Whitehorse says about 200 people will work in the new building, with all staff expected to move in by November. Some activity will take place there 24-hours a day as staff work on transit, snow removal, road maintenance and more. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

About 200 people will work in new building

Curtis called the new building "a sign of respect" for city staff who have worked in cramped conditions for decades.

About 200 people will be working in the new building, which will have some activity 24-hours a day.

The design combines office space with a maintenance hub and storage space for city buses, loaders, graders, dump trucks, sanders, excavators, packers, line painting equipment and other vehicles.

"It means we finally have enough room," Curtis said.

"It means our staff won't be working in cramped conditions. We had ... staff working for an hour in the morning backing everything out, just to get the equipment you need," he said.

That daily bottleneck was likened to  "a game of Tetris" by Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker, who said he wasn't the only elected official with concerns about safety in the former building.

The city's old transit depot. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Old building called 'asbestos rat trap' and worse

The new building will replace the old municipal services building in Whitehorse, which the city plans to demolish. Those plans are scheduled to be presented in the capital budget going to council later this year.

From the sounds of it, the mayor would love to press the demolition button.

Curtis called the building "rickety" and "the biggest pig in Yukon" when it comes to energy use.

"We have so many people who have worked in those conditions and it's hard to understand how we could have allowed it to happen for so long," Curtis said.

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell called the old building an "asbestos rat trap" and a "terrible place to work in."

High ceilings and plenty of floor space will allow the City of Whitehorse to store and maintain vehicles. Previously the city's transit fleet was parked outside, which sometimes required keeping engines running through cold nights. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

No more idling of city buses all night

The new building's large bays will allow the city's transit buses to be stored indoors during winter.

On cold nights, the city used to keep their diesel engines running — all night.

"That was absurd," Bagnell said. "Keeping our buses running all night long so they would start in the morning, just sitting outside putting particulates into our lungs and greenhouse gases." 

The new building is built above Canada's building codes regarding energy efficiency.

It also has 1,050 solar panels on the roof, which are currently producing power. The rooftop will hold the spot as Yukon's biggest solar farm until a project about 2.5 times the size starts producing power in Old Crow next year, to be followed by an even larger solar farm being planned outside Whitehorse.


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