Yukon News

Whitehorse mulls $9.2-million transit add-on to operations building

Lori Garrison Wednesday April 19, 2017

Joel Krahn/Yukon News

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Peter O’Blenes, Whitehorse’s director of infrastructure and operations, speaks at a technical briefing for the city’s new operations building April 18.

Whitehorse city staff told council April 18 it can save $1 million if it approves a $9.2-million budget increase to the long-awaited plan for the new operations building.

The transit building is one of the nine city offices meant to be merged into the operations building over the course of a five-year plan.

The savings come from doing the work now instead of later, as the current transit building is not meeting the city’s needs, said Wayne Tuck, the city’s engineer.

Adding the transit expansion now also saves money through “economies of scale and production,” said Peter O’Blenes, director of infrastructure and operations.

“They’re buying more concrete, more steel, they have more buying power,” he said.

The current transit building, located in the Marwell area, is not big enough to house all of the city’s 13 full-length buses and two accessible buses at the same time, said Tuck.

This causes problems in the winter, because buses stored outside must be left idling all night to ensure they will start in the morning, he said.

The new addition to the operations building plan adds administration facilities, space for mechanics and a four-bay garage, which will be able to house 17 full-size buses and three accessible buses, Tuck said.

The building would also house other heavy equipment, such as graters, front-end loaders and garbage trucks, O’Blenes said.

“This building is key to ensuring we give our operators the equipment they need when they go out,” he said.

The original plan for the operations building was estimated to cost $45.7 million. With the transit expansion, the pre-tender estimate is $55 million, but $8.6 million of the additional $9.2 million would be paid for by funding from the federal gas tax, said O’Blenes.

However, the gas tax funding has not yet been approved by the territory. O’Blenes said they are “99 per cent confident the gas (tax) funding will come through.”

“(The) bus expansion totally applies to the gas tax rules … we’re confident the money will be available,” he said.

If that funding did not come through, O’Blenes said the project would revert back to the original pre-transit expansion plan.

The city would have to front $600,000 from reserves because the gas tax would likely not cover the administrative costs of the expansion, O’Blenes said. It would not require additional borrowing.

The overall plan for the operations building, designed by Toronto-based firm RDHA, is designed to be “expandable” to meet future needs and to be as energy efficient as possible, O’Blenes said.

The new operations building exceeds the 2011 national energy code’s efficiency standards by 80 per cent, Tuck said. It includes an array of solar panels on the roof, which will meet some of its energy needs. It will be propane heated with an electric boiler, with provision for biomass in the future.

Estimates of annual operating costs for the new building are not complete, O’Blenes said, but he anticipates the savings to the city will be about $100,000 a year.

The other option is to renovate the existing transit building at a cost of $620,000, Tuck said. This would only be a temporary “stop-gap” measure, he said, especially because mechanics would not be housed in that building. This would mean buses would have to be shuttled back and forth for maintenance and repairs.

“Even if we renovated the transit building it wouldn’t address the issue of the mechanics being up the hill,” Coun. Roslyn Woodcock said. “Sometime later on, we would be building a transit expansion no matter what.”

Mayor Dan Curtis agreed, adding that even if the addition were built, it might “be fine for a year … but we’d still have great big diesels idling outside in the winter.”

There will be no tax increase with this part of project, O’Blenes said.

Overall, the project would see the city spend $12.2 million from its reserves and $23.8 million from the federal gas tax.

It would also have to borrow $18.8 million, doubling the city’s current debt limit. This represents a “significant,” net increase in the debt load, said Valerie Braga, the city’s chief financial officer.

“This is going to be the most significant decision in the city’s history and affect taxpayers for the next 20 years,” Coun. Samson Hartland said. “To say that there are no alternatives is not truly the case. We have a number of options to look at.”

“I’m all into listening to all the facts and all the reasoning but I just don’t see an alternative to the nine other buildings that have lived their life and are done,” said Curtis.

Council will vote April 24 on whether to put the project to tender with the requested transit expansion.

Hartland said he felt there should be a second vote to increase the debt limit, but if council “has to make a decision lock, stock and barrel next week, then (they) will.”

If approved, a contract would be awarded by mid-July, O’Blenes said.

Contact Lori Garrison at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

8 Comments

Alan wrote:
1:03pm Sunday April 23, 2017

Budget management was one of the reasons Christine was fired, She has worked out how to build these new city buildings stages in an affordable taxpayer pleasing manner.  But council thought her pragmatism and wisdom did not fit their vision of doing everything in one go.

They did not want to look bad if they locked horns or debated her approach in public. Did I mention she had shown she could save city taxpayers millions of dollar.

Anie wrote:
10:32am Saturday April 22, 2017

Apse need more than space to house equipment. We need a functional maintenance building to repair the equipment, and it needs to be large enough for today’s stock as well as future, and it needs to be big enough and well equipped for people to do their work.  There isn’t enough room at the transit site. And I did read the report. It was, IMHO, well researched and well written. But some people just don’t want to hear that. Their minds are made up.  Hey, why don’t we just barricade the highway and keep all those southerners with their new ideas out of here. Yeah, maybe we can go back to the good old days before pavement and those new fangled streetlights?

north_of_60 wrote:
5:18pm Friday April 21, 2017

We don’t need a new mega-structure, aka. Curtis’ Castle-on-the-Hill. We’re not paying more taxes every year to enshrine the Mayor’s self-defined legacy.

What we can afford is an industrial style addition to the existing bus garage in Marwell to house buses, trucks and graders. All we need is something like the grader station in every other Yukon community.

Riptide wrote:
10:08am Friday April 21, 2017

If the feds are going to pay for 95% of it (or whatever the actual number is), then why not? It’s going to end up getting done anyway, we all know that, so we might as well get the feds to pay for it.

Joe and jane wrote:
11:08pm Thursday April 20, 2017

@ anie, you obviously missed my point, current mismanagement of funds will not be enhanced by adding more opportunity to mismanage additional funds. The report is a joke, poorly written and far from factual.

Anie wrote:
5:46pm Thursday April 20, 2017

Joe and Jane, do you have any inkling of the o/m for the current municipal services building? Have you taken the time to read the report? No.  Didn’t think so.

Lost in the Yukon wrote:
6:35pm Wednesday April 19, 2017

What the heck for only a few thousand more we can add in a wellness centre/healing centre for Council members, staff showers and exercise room. Heck it’s only public money, it’s not real money.

WTF ... there needs to be a referendum on this whole project. Totally irresponsible of King Dan Curtis. - this guy has got to go.

joe and jane wrote:
2:42pm Wednesday April 19, 2017

it will never end. No one is even talking about the O/M required and , why are we moving towards more empty buses and what is quickly becoming archaic transportation?

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