Opinion » Editorial


The price of a legacy



By now everyone is aware of the challenges of building in Whistler in the frenzied years leading up to the 2010 Olympics. Labour shortages, global demands for steel and other building materials, tight timelines and “the Whistler factor” have conspired to push several public projects way over budget. The list may be painful reading but it is worth reviewing.

• Whistler library: originally $5.7 million; latest estimate $11 million.

• Sewage treatment plant upgrade: estimated at $20 million in 2003; now estimated at $51 million, including the $12.5 million composting facility.

• Municipal hall expansion: budgeted for $5.7 million; revised estimate came in at $15 million; project cancelled.

The capital cost of most Olympic venues is VANOC’s problem, rather than Whistler’s, but for the record:

• Nordic centre: original estimate $97 million; current estimate $119.7 million.

• Sliding centre: original estimate $52 million; current estimate $104.9 million.

The athletes’ centre is primarily a VANOC project but Whistler is kicking in for the gymnasium. The athletes’ centre, which includes 350 beds and a high performance training facility within the athletes’ village, was originally estimated at $16 million. The latest estimate is $46 million. Whistler was asked to increase its contribution to the gymnasium at the athletes’ centre from $2 million to $3.65 million.

There’s not much that can be done about the spiraling cost of any of these projects now, they are either well under construction and/or have to be finished in time for the 2010 Olympics. But there’s a lot of work still to be done at the athletes’ village in the next two years.

The official estimate for the athletes’ village is still $131 million, although the latest report from Partnerships B.C. hedges a little by saying it’s “$131 million-plus”. Whistler is responsible for building the athletes’ village, and given what’s happened to other capital projects Whistlerites should be watching with concern.

But the athletes’ village is also following a different model. With the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation overseeing the project there is a group of building professionals who have experience with “the Whistler factor”. They have, to date, been able to find development partners to share the load, including Hostelling International and the Whistler Housing Authority. Intrawest, which is seeking development rights at Base II, may also become a partner in the project.

The athletes’ village is the project that should be a tangible, long-term Olympic legacy for Whistler. How successful the development corporation has been in sticking to its budget should be seen in the spring, when the first units are offered for sale to Whistler residents on the WHA waitlist.