Construction worker drought 

Employee housing low priority in face of sheer volume of work

click to flip through (2) Whistler Construction Company workers like Jim Crichton, at work on the $8.1 million Whistler Public Library, are becoming a rare commodity.  Photo by Maureen Provencal
  • Whistler Construction Company workers like Jim Crichton, at work on the $8.1 million Whistler Public Library, are becoming a rare commodity. Photo by Maureen Provencal
 

Whistler, like all of B.C., is poised to feel the brunt of a construction labour shortage over the next three years.

And if there aren’t enough workers to build the projects in the pipeline, some of which are highly time sensitive, then it’s likely it will be the employee housing projects that could be shunted to the backburner.

"At the end of the day one of the unfortunate outcomes may be to defer certain projects," said Mayor Ken Melamed this week. "That’s the only other thing you can do. You can’t just say ‘bring it all on and more’ if there literally aren’t enough people to complete the project."

The mayor is not suggesting employee housing projects be pushed back at this time, but the in face of the construction boom he recognizes that some projects could be given priority over others as workers are spread thin.

In his inaugural speech on Dec. 5 Melamed touched briefly on what he called "the impending labour and construction crisis."

He did not use the term lightly.

"I thought about it when I called it a crisis and I hoped I wasn’t over sensationalizing the issue but I’ve just been hearing from a number of people who are involved in the industry or various aspects of the construction industry that have major concerns about the coming years," he said.

"There’s a lack of skilled tradesmen. You combine that with the number of major construction projects that are coming down the pipe in the next few years and it adds up to potential crisis."

Estimates drawn up by local homebuilder Tim Regan, who has taken a keen interest in the situation, point to $900 million worth of work in the next three years in the resort alone. Whistler, he said, will need more than 1,200 carpenters to complete that work.

He bases his figures on the square footage of work.

Projects underway or approved include high-end residential development, employee housing and commercial space. They are: the Nita Lake Lodge, the Whistler Public Library, the First Nations Cultural Centre, Stonebridge, Kadenwood, Lakeside, Function Junction employee housing.

Projects in the pipeline waiting approval include: Rainbow, Holborn, Cressey.

And there are Olympic projects too: the athletes village, the bob/luge track, the Nordic Centre in the Callaghan Valley, the possible Paralympic arena.

There are also projects to the north and the south, such as the Wedge development and Porteau Cove. And the $600 million highway expansion. And Whistler-Blackcomb’s likely development of a $45 million gondola. And the ongoing renovations in the resort as Whistler prepares to host the world for the Olympic Games.

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