On May 6, the University of British Columbia published a project update on the 43-storey campus that's currently under construction at 550 Doyle Street in downtown Kelowna.

"Hourly monitoring of soil movement will continue and all data indicate that conditions remain stable," UBCO said. "Engineering teams for the project have advised this work is not expected to impact surrounding properties, including Hadgraft Wilson Place."

The residents of Hadgraft Wilson Place, however, would likely argue that the damage has already been done, as they were asked to evacuate the building in late-March due to damage resulting from the UBCO Downtown construction and have now filed a class action lawsuit against the various proponents of the project.

The lawsuit was filed on May 3 by Monique Saebels and Megan Beckmann, two individuals of the proposed residential tenant subclass, as well as Eight Spaces Group Inc., which operates a co-working space called Okanagan CoLab and is a member of the proposed business subclass of the class action lawsuit.

The UBCO Downtown project site is legally owned by Doyle Street Properties Ltd. and beneficially owned by UBC Properties Investments Ltd., the trustee of UBC Properties Trust. All three are listed as defendants, alongside consultants on the project, including HCMA Architecture + Design, Glotman Simpson Consulting Engineers, GeoPacific Consultants, Kane Consulting, and others. Also listed as a defendant is Ledcor Construction, the general contractor on the project, and the City of Kelowna.

"Structural and Other Damage"

The City of Kelowna issued a building permit — for a record-setting $262M — in August 2023, but the trouble had already began by then, the plaintiffs say.

Site excavation began in May 2023 and the defendants were informed in July 2023 that Hadgraft Wilson Place — located across the street to the east, at 1360 Bertram Street — was experiencing "structural and other damage as a result of the excavation and construction activities."

"In or around July 2023, the defendants, or each of them knew or ought to have known that the shoring wall that was part of UBCO Development construction site was unstable and the excavation and construction work on the lands posed a danger to adjacent properties," the plaintiffs said. "However, they failed to stop construction and excavation activities on the lands or warn the plaintiffs and class members of the resultant damage and the dangerous conditions to the surrounding properties."

Around August 2023, the defendants were then informed that the CoLab building — located across the street to the south, at 1405 St. Paul Street — was also experiencing "structural and other damage caused by the excavation and construction activities."

On November 25, the occupants of the CoLab building were advised to evacuate. Two days later, the City issued a stop work order, as the defendants "had been conducting work in the CoLab Building without a permit related to the excavation and construction activities on the lands," the plaintiffs said. The evacuation was reported by local media at the time.

Just after the new year, the Legion Building — at 1380 Bertram Street, ` across the street to the east — was also "evacuated due to the excavation and construction activities."

Finally, in late-March, the residents of Hadgraft Wilson Place were evacuated. By then, several residents had already evacuated on their own, including one of the plaintiffs. In late-April, Okanagan College opened its doors to support residents who evacuated.

Alleged damage across the various affected buildings include "large cracks throughout the floors, walls, and ceilings; structural damage to the foundation and sidewalks; malfunctioning elevators; damage to HVAC, plumbing and other mechanical and life safety systems; misaligned windows and doors; and ruptured pipes."

Alleged Negligence

The plaintiffs are claiming negligence on the part of the developers, architects, consultants, contractors, stemming from their duty to ensure the work was done without damaging surrounding properties — among other things — and their breaching of these duties.

Regarding the City of Kelowna, the plaintiffs detailed a particularly long list of allegations.

"The City was notified of the damage to the surrounding properties and their concerns about the UBCO Development, including the excavation on the lands, instability of the shoring wall, but the City failed to investigate or take other action and issued a building permit for the UBCO Development without getting an independent professional geotechnical or other appropriate engineering report to confirm the surrounding conditions including any safety concerns," the plaintiffs said.

The plaintiffs also say that the City failed to stipulate adequate conditions to protect surrounding properties in their agreements with the developers and were also negligent in "failing to adequately inspect the structural and geotechnical design of the UBCO Development," "failing to ensure the shoring wall was repaired or replaced by the other defendants after being notified that it had been damaged and was unstable," and "failing to provide notice to the neighbouring land owners, including the plaintiffs, of the nature and extent of geotechnical and other hazards associated with the UBCO Development that were then known or ought to have been known," among other things.

In a project update on April 30, UBCO said "We are advised by independently peer-reviewed professional engineers that the shoring wall, first identified as the root of earlier concerns for the safety of HWP, remains stable and that raising the excavation depth will further mitigate the potential for any future soil settlement on adjacent land."

The plaintiffs say that the residential tenant subclass of the class action suit have suffered property damage, increased rental costs, increased expenditures, and "personal injury, such as depression and anxiety, stress, significant mental anguish, high blood pressure, and others," while the business subclass has suffered revenue losses, relocation costs, storage costs, and damage.

The plaintiffs are seeking "in trust award for parents and caregivers of the residential tenant subclass members," along with general damages, special damages, aggravated damages, and punitive damages. The defendants have yet to file an official response to the notice of civil claim.

UBCO Downtown Kelowna

A ground-level rendering of the planned UBCO Downtown building.A ground-level rendering of the planned UBCO Downtown building.(HCMA Architecture + Design / UBC Properties Trust)

The allegations could come to be a stain on one of Kelowna's most important development projects. Aside from becoming the tallest building in Kelowna, at 43 storeys, the construction of a new campus building in downtown Kelowna is anticipated to become a big source of talent for the region at large.

"Since our creation in 2005, we have grown from 3,000 students to more than 12,000 today and we expect our community to continue its development, reaching a population of between 13,000 to 18,000 by 2040," UBCO says. "With this kind of expanded presence over the coming years, paired with our ongoing commitment to community engagement, it only makes sense that we would create community-facing academic space in the heart of Kelowna, in close proximity to many of our community partners working in health, tech, business, and arts and culture."

The new UBCO Downtown building is planned to include 415,000 sq. ft of space, including academic space, research space, office space, a storefront art gallery, as well as 473 student housing units. Earlier this month, the planned four-level underground parkade was also reduced to two levels as a result of the excavation trouble.

It's unclear if the lawsuit would result in construction delays, but the work currently remains ongoing, with UBCO saying in the May 6 project update that nearby roads would be closed between May 6 and May 17 in order for large equipment to be delivered to the construction site.

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