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Workers in downtown Kelowna building forced out as UBCO digs deeper

This is the hole being dug for the underground parking for the UBCO tower, forcing tenants to move out of the low white building across the street from it.
This is the hole being dug for the underground parking for the UBCO tower, forcing tenants to move out of the low white building across the street from it.

Damage to a fourth building near the construction site of UBC Okanagan’s new downtown Kelowna campus has triggered a “do not occupy” notice to a commercial building across Doyle Avenue from the site.

All workers in the building have left.

Three other buildings – including the Royal Canadian Legion and the brand-new 68-unit Hadgraft Wilson Place building – across the laneway from the site were reporting damage from the excavation in October but are still occupied.

READ MORE: UBCO’s new Kelowna downtown highrise damaging neighbouring buildings

The evacuated building was home to Okanagan CoLab and other small businesses but was in the process of shutting down since Kerkhoff Construction plans to build its 35-storey One Varsity tower on the site.

The notice to vacate was issued following a call to Kelowna Fire Department on the weekend of Nov. 25 when an event was being staged in the building.

“Somebody at the event noticed some dust they thought might be smoke, so they called the fire department,” Lance Kayfish, the City of Kelowna’s risk manager, told “When (firefighters) attended, they didn’t find any fire or smoke but, potentially, there could have been some dust that occurred when there was some settlement or something and that’s why the call was initially made.

“After they got there and did a review – fire officers aren’t engineers – but what they saw was enough for them to say: ‘Let’s be cautious here and ask people not to occupy the building until we can get more information.’”

A structural engineering team, led by UBC, is investigating and Kayfish hopes to have their report within the next few days to determine if workers can safely return.

As he understands it, 10 people were still working in the building but only until the end of the month. All the other workers had left earlier.

Even if structural repairs are needed, it’s not known if Kerkhoff will bother since the building is due to be demolished to make way for the One Varsity tower, where units are now on sale.

Kerkhoff did not respond to a request for an interview as of publication time.

READ MORE: New Kelowna tower proposal aims to build community from ground up

Normally, given the high water table in downtown Kelowna, large buildings are built over surface parking podiums but UBCO is digging the equivalent of four storeys deep in order to build underground parking for its 43-storey tower.

It will be the deepest parkade in Kelowna.

“It employs an innovative ‘tanked’ design that will use a special waterproof concrete mix to accommodate the city’s high water table,” Nathan Skolski, UBCO’s associate director of public affairs, wrote in an article for UBC Okanagan News. “Unlike conventional construction where water accumulation around the foundation is drained or pumped away—potentially carrying away vital sediments and destabilizing surrounding soils—the tanked design keeps the water and soils in place, ensuring hydrostatic pressure balance.”

It's Kayfish's understanding that, as the hole is being dug, groundwater flows into it and has to be pumped away. That drains water from surrounding land, causing the settlement that has damaged the buildings."

"Strictly speaking, dewatering is confined to within the excavation site so it’s not entirely accurate to say that’s the cause of the ground settling," Skolski said in an email to "Although soil settling during a large excavation like this one is common and was anticipated during the planning process."

The excavation is about 11 metres deep and another two to three metres of soil are still to be removed. In February, the concrete seal should be poured and the water table will rebound.

The city required UBCO to do pre-construction surveys to establish baseline information.

There are more than 100 sensors in neighbouring buildings and roadways, stretching for about a block, Skolski's emails says.

The Maddison highrise, on the corner of Doyle Avenue and Ellis Street, is one of the neighbouring buildings being monitored, Kayfish said, noting that no problems have been recorded there.

There has not been any damage found to the roads next to the construction site but, Kayfish said, pavement is often replaced when large projects, such as this, are built.

UBCO hopes to open the new campus in 2027.

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