UBCO's Kelowna Tower stopped due to safety concerns and causing an evacuation in surrounding area

Construction of UBC Okanagan’s new downtown Kelowna tower is on hold after safety concerns lead to the evacuation of a nearby affordable housing facility.

This is the latest update in a months-long series of safety concerns and evacuations relating to the construction.

The 43-story tower was expected to be completed in 2027 and house UBCO’s social work program, nursing program, research facilities and hundreds of market-rate apartments.

But when construction began last summer, problems started to emerge.

Digging for the five-story underground parkade, the deepest in the city, began to cause cracks under surrounding buildings. In November 2023, several businesses had to evacuate as a result.

Kelowna Capital News reported this evacuation included a co-working collective CoLab, which had around 500 members — CoLab’s space remains closed.

In January, the City of Kelowna risk manager wrote in a statement that the focus of construction had shifted to a different area of the site while engineers reviewed the issues to try to prevent further damage.

But now, the City of Kelowna says “third-party geotechnical and structural engineering reports” raised new safety concerns.

Hadgraft Wilson Place, an affordable housing unit run by Pathways Ability Society was ordered to evacuate for three days from March 31 to April 2.

In a statement, Kelowna Fire Chief Dwight Seymour wrote “Recent assessments have indicated the level of risk is significant enough to begin the evacuation process to ensure the life and safety of occupants.”

“We are dedicated to ensuring our tenants receive the support they need during this difficult time,” wrote Charisse Daley, Executive Director of Pathways Abilities Society. “Pathways will work with each tenant to understand their needs and connect them with resources and accommodations as necessary.”

Following the latest developments, UBC said it has been in contact with the city of Kelowna, Pathways Abilities Society and BC Housing, which was involved in the evacuation.

As for the construction, it’s unclear how long this delay will be — or how much the plans may have to change when it’s over.

“UBC and UBC Properties Trust will take time to study the most recent engineering reports and consult with the city to establish the appropriate next steps,” UBC wrote.

UBC approved a $54 million budget for the project in November 2022. The construction began as UBCO’s student union continued to raise concerns to the board about limited academic and recreation space on campus.