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UBCO not releasing engineering reports for downtown excavation that caused evacuation

Hadgraft Wilson Place is visible on the right side of the photo, next to the UBCO construction site.
Hadgraft Wilson Place is visible on the right side of the photo, next to the UBCO construction site.

UBC won't make public the engineering reports for the construction site in downtown Kelowna that caused the evacuation of a subsidized housing complex.

“At this time, I’m not able to release the engineering reports for this project,” UBCO spokesperson Nathan Skolski said in an email in

UBCO’s downtown highrise tower construction project was briefly put on hold when the excavation for the four-storey underground parking garage damaged surrounding buildings.

One of those damaged buildings was Hadgraft Wilson Place, an apartment building owned by Pathways Abilities Society geared towards people with fixed incomes and disabilities. The tenants were forced to evacuate their homes, April 1, because the building was deemed unsafe.

READ MORE: Residents scramble for places to live as downtown Kelowna building deemed unsafe

Monique Saebels, tenant and spokesperson for Hadgraft Wilson Place, said a little transparency from the university would go a long way.

“It would mean the whole world. We keep hearing from people there’s stuff going on behind the scenes, over and over. But we need some of this information, we need to know if we are going to have a home to come home to. If these numbers and documents are released that would help give us some clarity about our future, where we’re going,” she said.

At the moment, tenants are living in hotels, still paying rent and are not sure of what the future holds. She says they have to move again this Thursday.

“I see this being a long term thing,” she said.

The residents continue to pay rent to Pathways and the organization is still paying for the hotel rooms and food.

READ MORE: 'Devastating': Evacuation of building next to UBCO construction site extended two weeks

The damage to Hadgraft Wilson Place stems from settling issues caused by UBCO’s excavation.

This project required a geotechnical engineering report that would include information about the soil, how to safely excavate the underground parking garage and shore the walls of the garage to prevent settling issues.

According to Carleton University geotechnical engineering professor Mohammad Rayhani, preparing any geotechnical report is challenging and filled with opportunities to make a mistake.

“I’m not familiar with this particular case but in geotechnical engineering we’re dealing with a complex material compared to other construction materials. If you grab a soil sample from where you are standing and move a couple of metres away and grab another sample, and test them, their properties could be very different. That’s why it’s common to make a mistake in geotechnical engineering because of the complexities of soil,” Rayhani said.

Rayhani said because soil is so complex, engineers apply a “factor of safety.” Engineers plan to apply less force to a structure than their calculations would allow in order to account for any mistakes and ensure the structure is safe.

“For example is the soil we apply a reduction value to make sure we account for the uncertainties. That’s the factor of safety. If my designed resistance values would be a certain number I only allow a portion of that to be applied,” he said.

When settling issues do occur, Rayhani said it’s much easier to fix the earlier the problems are detected.

READ MORE: Work on UBCO highrise resumes in downtown Kelowna as evacuated residents face unsure future

“If they were seeing signs of movement they could have gone back and checked everything and reinvestigated the sides and added more bore holes in the sides to see what was wrong,” he said.

“There are ways like that, typically a different company is involved in the process and I’m guessing they didn’t catch (the settling damage) so that’s why they would have continued the work. Once the damage is through the whole building it becomes much harder to fix.”

Pathways’ executive director Charisse Daley previously said the society had been warning UBC Trust, the legal entity created by the university for construction projects like this, about the settling issues long before they became catastrophic.

The message Pathways got back from UBC Trust said, "they're not confident the construction is causing the building damage.”

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