Contractor handed extension

Whitehorse has granted a one-month extension to a contractor completing underground utilities work at the First Avenue-Motorways site.

Whitehorse has granted a one-month extension to a contractor completing underground utilities work at the First Avenue-Motorways site.

Norcope Enterprises, which has been laying the groundwork for a future mixed commercial-residential complex since early May, now has until the end of August to finish the $2.9-million job.

“What we’ve done is we’ve extended their deadline by a month,” said Janet Ryan, the city manager overseeing the project.

Norcope got the extension because Ottawa delayed its initial financial transfer to the city, said Ryan.

This caused a two-week postponement in awarding the construction contract, and, in turn, held up ordering material for the job, she said.

“We were originally going to start at Main Street and work our way north and, when the funding was delayed, we thought we would start at the Motorways end and work our way south — that caused some delays in terms of material ordering because you need different kinds of materials for the different ends.”

But Norcope has also been having trouble finding enough workers to stay on schedule, according to an engineering firm hired by the city to oversee the project.

“We did have a concern that they didn’t have enough staff to meet the required schedule and that’s been discussed,” said Rick Savage of Quest Engineering Group Inc.

Quest has held internal talks about sending a letter threatening to cancel Norcope’s contract if the company didn’t get the workers it needed to finish the job on time, said Savage.

“Typically, there would be what they call a seven-day letter that would have to go out, advising them that, within seven days, if things haven’t improved, the owner would consider taking the work out of their hands,” he said.

“But that hasn’t happened.”

Instead, Quest decided to give Norcope an end-of-June deadline to hire more personnel.

Norcope managed to find workers in time.

“They hired more people and they were committed to having three crews working on the site and they have that now, so they’ve met that initial request,” said Savage.

Yesterday, Norcope owner Doug Gonder was manning a 21,000-kilogram Caterpillar hydraulic excavator behind the Greyhound building on Second Avenue.

“There’s a shortage of workers,” said Gonder, clad in a florescent orange vest and yellow construction hat.

“Everybody’s feeling it. You can go over to the Pizza Hut and you’ll see they’re having the same problem,” he said.

Everything is on schedule, said Gonder.

“We lost about 30 days at the start, but we’re about 60 per cent done,” he said, noting all the deep underground utility work was finished.

All that remained was the shallow stuff, he added.

Norcope was awarded both underground and shallow utility work contracts by the city, which includes the installation of water, sewage and electrical systems.

Gonder has about 12 workers on board, and recently sub-contracted some of the shallow electrical work to another company, Dynamic Systems.

“That’s going to speed things up quite a bit,” said Savage. “(Dynamic’s) got their own separate crew, which is helping the situation quite a bit.”

Just last week, the city awarded Skookum Asphalt Ltd. the surface works contract for the site.

Skookum was the lowest bidder at just over $2.8 million.

“So far we’re anticipating that the surface works may not be quite on schedule because of the delay, but certainly not far behind,” said Ryan.

“Once (Norcope) gets enough in the ground, then the surface works can start behind them,” she said.

The First Avenue and Motorways work was originally planned to be completed by fall 2006, but has been rescheduled to finish by the end of the year at a total cost of nearly $7 million.

Ottawa has agreed to pay the bill.

An extra $400,000 worth of landscaping and other surface works is scheduled for early 2007.

The site is to be used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2007 Canada Winter Games and will then be opened up for mixed residential-commercial development.

The city is doing tests to ensure the construction work is adequate.

“We’ve pressure-tested the water main (Norcope) installed and that’s passed,” said Ryan. “And we’ve got compaction testing on site, so they’re being tested for their backfill.”

The majority of the tests won’t happen until towards the end of the construction, she said.

“It looks like at this point, if things continue the way they are, (Gonder) shouldn’t have any problem,” said Savage.

“It’ll depend on whether he can keep personnel. There’s such a shortage of workers that people are changing jobs almost weekly.

“It’s a tough environment for keeping people out there.”