Location of Yellowknife’s new wellness centre may change


A wellness and recovery centre planned for downtown Yellowknife may not be built on 51 Street, as initially envisaged.

The territory’s health minister says the City of Yellowknife has “expressed an interest” in having the centre built in another location: near the current day shelter, across from the legislature.

Despite the GNWT having awarded a design contract worth $650,000 for the 51 Street location, assistant deputy minister Kyla Kakfwi Scott told MLAs this week that the Department of Health and Social Services had “a responsibility not to dismiss that request out of hand.”

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“We need to give it its due diligence and consider it,” said Kakfwi Scott on Thursday.

“It is a complicated request, and so it’s taking some time and there are lots of variables. But we are going to do that part so that we’re not proceeding with a plan without having taken the time to hear that there might be other considerations.”

Julie Green, the health minister, said: “Yes, there has been some investment in this project already. We thought we had a secure location and a secure budget for it. But much has changed in the last year.”

Rylund Johnson, the Yellowknife North MLA, said: “When you’ve spent a couple hundred thousand dollars on the design for a building in one location, and then a whole other location goes up, it risks hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money being spent on nothing.”

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The 51 Street location has been vocally opposed by some nearby stores, though it enjoys the support of others. “If they build it there, I’m closing my business,” Klaus Schoenne, who has owned 51 Street’s True Value Hardware for decades, said last year.

Cost ‘is unknown’

Once built, the wellness and recovery centre will replace Yellowknife’s existing sobering centre and day shelter facilities.

Under current plans, the wellness and recovery centre will differ little from the day shelter and sobering centre beyond providing a bigger, permanent space to house both services. The department says the larger space will allow for group programming and a dedicated space for cultural programming. 

Earlier this year, the GNWT expected the new facility to provide 90 beds in the recovery centre and 59 seats in the day shelter. That design would include a dining space, washrooms and showers. 

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But the move to a different location might change that.

The GNWT is understood to be considering the former auto dealership lot next to the current day shelter’s modular structures, but that lot has some contamination issues.

MLAs discussed the project as they reviewed the NWT government’s capital estimates – the list of infrastructure projects being planned – for the 2023-24 financial year.

The wellness and recovery centre appears on that list with an expected completion date of 2024-25. The exact cost is not yet clear, not least because the location is not certain. Building the centre near the day shelter and auto lot could be costly and complex, either because of ground contamination or permafrost thaw in the area – an issue that contributed to the abandonment of a nearby visitor centre five years ago.

Asked what the GNWT expects to pay for the centre, Green said the project “was originally considered to cost in the range of $10 million.”

“The new cost is unknown,” the minister said, as the GNWT prepares to seek federal buy-in to fund it. “I agree that that may not be an easy sell for the federal government but, until the location is sorted out, we are not able to firm up the cost.”

Caitlin Cleveland, the Kam Lake MLA, questioned whether the centre belonged on a list of projects being advanced or should be returned to the planning stage, given the uncertainties.

“They don’t really have [a] secure handle on what location’s going to be used, what design’s going to be used, when it will be completed, or what budget they’re going to be requesting,” Cleveland said.

“I’m wondering why the department of health is putting this money in here rather than first gaining answers to these questions, and then coming back either during next year’s budgeting cycle or with a supplementary appropriation for funds once they have more answers.”