Faced with contract tenders that essentially double the price of the project – from some $1.49 million budgeted to more than $3 million in projected costs – White Rock council has voted to take a wait-and-see approach to the Helen Fathers Centre Street Walkway upgrade planned for the city’s hillside.
After intense discussion of a corporate report from engineering and municipal operations director Jim Gordon at Monday night’s (June 13) meeting, council decided against the recommendation to go ahead with a contract award to low-bidder Cedar Crest Land BC Ltd. – which would have required a city financial plan amendment to add $1.685 million to the walkway budget.
Instead it passed Coun. Anthony Manning’s motion to hold approval of the contract award, pending news of the city’s application for a federal grant – from Infrastructure Canada’s Active Transportation Fund – expected before the end of June.
“This thing has ballooned exponentially,” Coun. David Chesney commented, in supporting Manning’s motion.
Fathers, a White Rock councillor, died Feb. 7 after battling a lengthy illness.
Also being awaited is the result of a court injunction – expected by July 5 – that has been brought against the city by the owners of four properties along the walkway route that have encroached on city property, complicating implementation of the design.
Gordon warned council that while bids are still open until July 10, there is a chance that the contractor “may decide to just walk away” from the project, perceiving the city to be acting in bad faith.
But even if the city can negotiate with the contractor to wait for the contract to be awarded, any problem with the anticipated federal grant would mean that staff would ask council to scrap the project as planned and go back to the drawing board early next year for a proposal more in line with the original budget.
“We’d need some clarity,” Gordon said.
In his report Gordon said numerous factors – including soaring material and energy prices, high inflation, supply chain issues, financing for contractor operations and the lingering impacts of COVID 19 – have led to much higher bids for the work than anticipated.
“There are all kinds of things (affecting the bids),” he said.
Gordon and chief administrative officer Guillermo Ferrero pointed out that the project, to be named for late city councillor, has been one of the highest priority items on council’s list.
But council members balked at boosting the budget immediately, particularly if there is still a chance that federal funding is forthcoming.
Reactions ranged from Coun. Scott Kristjanson (who voted against the motion, along with Coun. Erika Johanson) who stated that he would “never” support a price tag of $3 million for the project, to Coun. Christopher Trevelyan who changed his original vote against the motion to delay after hearing the federal contribution could still be substantial.
“The grant might help to cover some of the cost overrun, and hopefully, by that time, the legal issues with the encroachments will be resolved, and maybe it will be in place by next summer,” Manning said.
“I’d rather have it done right and honour Coun. Fathers’ name rather than have something done just for the sake of having it done.”
“As much as I think this council would like to see it started before we finish this term, I think we want to make sure that we see it done right and not trip all over ourselves for some photo opportunity,” Chesney said.