Contractors slag shoddy athletes’ village

The 2007 Canada Winter Games athletes’ village project is a dysfunctional mess, according to several contractors involved in the project.

The 2007 Canada Winter Games athletes’ village project is a dysfunctional mess, according to several contractors involved in the project.

At $31 million, it’s grossly overbudget. The Alberta-bought camp trailers that make up the three-storey structure are poorly built and many have arrived damaged.

And internal strife onsite has forced some contractors to quit, while others are anxious to complete their contracts and get away.

Although many contractors have talked candidly to The News about problems at the Yukon College site, none wanted their names published.

“Everybody has their head in the guillotine over this if they say anything,” said one contractor.

“If we say it on the record, we’re still all on the site, and we’ll pay a tremendous price for having said that in public. And those people do have the ability to hurt you dramatically.”

Monday, a host of politicians and Games officials watched as the last prefab unit was hoisted into place.

“We’re happy to be on time and on budget,” said Premier Dennis Fentie.

Not true, said contractors.

“Despite the big song and dance that went on Monday, Atco is actually four to six weeks behind on the delivery of the (prefabricated housing) units,” said one contractor.

“And the product they delivered is surprisingly poor.”

“It makes you shake your head,” added another contractor.

“The (housing units) coming in are in shambles — it’s the worst workmanship I’ve ever seen.”

Atco Group, a multinational corporation based in Alberta, got the $9.7-million contract to supply 141 prefabricated housing modules.

Trucked north from its Calgary production plant throughout the winter, each unfinished module cost roughly $69,000.

It takes two or three modules to make an apartment, putting unfinished apartment costs between $138,000 and $207,000.

The modules arrive with drywall, wiring, plumbing and carpeting already in place.

“They just need to be buttoned together,” said government project manager Mike Frasher.

But the units arrived in such poor shape all these people have to be hired to fix them first, said several contractors.

The quality is poor, but with the Games looming there’s little that can be done.

“What’s come up here is much less than what would be accepted here generally — but it’s just gotta go now,” said a contractor.

“Some units have cracks in the drywall from the shipping and these are being repaired,” said Frasher.

“And the door frames and flooring need to be completed and those units that were shipped early still need to be painted.”

But Frasher is happy with Atco’s product.

“We decided to go with the prefabricated modules because they were cheaper and more expeditious,” said Fentie.

“And we couldn’t have built it this quickly just building a stick (frame) building,” added Whitehorse mayor Ernie Bourassa.

Not true, said several contractors.

“A stick building could have been built well within the timeframe,” said one.

And it would have been a better structure, he said.

“Now all we’re left with is a bunch of camp trailers, and I don’t know what we’re going to do with them.”

The plan is to turn one of the buildings into a student residence and one into affordable housing after the Games.

But contractors believe the buildings’ poor construction will compromise their life expectancy.

Besides being better quality, frame buildings would have been much cheaper, added another builder.

With its $31-million budget, the new 140,000 square foot athletes’ village — a glorified dorm — is costing roughly $220 a square foot to build.

That’s more than twice what it should cost, confirmed several contractors.

Buildings that size should cost about $125 to $150 a square foot, said several builders.

“Another huge part of the problem is the consultants, architects and engineers got paid full-bore fees, roughly $1.8 million, and did a terrible job,” said one contractor.

Normally this rate is negotiated down, especially in this case, when Atco provided 90 per cent of the floor design, he said.

These consultants should have co-ordinated the project, to some degree, but they didn’t, said the contractor.

Nevertheless, they were paid for the full floor design, he said.

There are quite a few variables affecting the cost of the project, said Frasher.

“All of our work has been tendered. We put it out, we get market prices and we award contracts — it’s all open to the public.

“Last year at this time, we had to make a decision on the risks of the project and whether we proceeded with a stick-built arrangement or whether we used a hybrid like this, which is partial modular and the rest is stick built, and we went with the combination, due to the unknown factors at the time, such as what winter would give us.”

The winter turned out to be warm, but last March nobody counted on that.

“The other thing we looked at was the number of tradesmen required to stick build a facility like this over the winter months,” said Frasher.

“And tradespeople are in high demand right now all over Western Canada, so it’s not like we can pick up a phone and find readily available tradespeople.”

The project’s definitive end date also played a role in the decision-making process, he said.

“We have an end date that can’t be moved and we have some major risks to assess against that end date, where most projects, if they’re late, won’t have the same impact ours would — that’s called risk management,” he said.

“Of course, their response is going to be, ‘That’s the only way they could meet the schedule’,” said one contractor.

“And my response to that is, they had no confidence in Yukoners solving problems.

“My theme to Dennis (Fentie) is, ‘You had a chance to let Yukoners solve this problem and you chose to go as far away from that as you could — with trailers and outside contractors.

“So, if you don’t show any confidence in us, why would you expect us to show confidence in you?’”

“They have Dominion (Fairmile) up here from Vancouver overseeing the local contractors — what’s that all about,” added another contractor.

“They have no confidence in local contractors to do it.”

Dominion Fairmile specializes in commercial, institutional construction management, and this is not common in the Yukon, explained its project manager Simon Mandarino.

“It’s different than most contracting.

“We’re a Western Canadian company with a lot of experience and we’ve teamed up locally with another project manager, Randy Shewen.”

Mandarino also complimented Atco’s housing modules.

Atco had some kinks to work out at the start, he said.

“But they’ve done an good job getting everything back on track.”

And buying prefabricated modules built in a factory made sense to Mandarino.

“In a factory you’re not dealing with weather or a shortage of labour,” he said.

“And everything can be monitored more closely.”

“I’m sure the job will get done in some fashion; it’s just not going to go the way it could have gone,” said one contractor.

In the construction process, when there are little changes or hiccups, it can be very timely to get answers resolved, he said.

“But on this project, they just don’t get resolved at all — this happens everyday, and it creates major frustration for everyone.”

Eight months ago, one of the contractors submitted what they termed “a big global budget” for the work they were to do.

Once the project was better defined, they expected to trim the estimate by almost $5 million, he said.

Now, they expect it to rise instead.

“At the rate they’re going up there, I’m not sure where the costs will end up.

“It’s gotten so bad, we’re inflating our prices dramatically just to deal with the brain damage.”

It’s so dysfunctional, contractors have already walked off the site, he said.

“One contractor, who was doing a bunch of remedial work, just bailed because it was too insane.

“I think everyone is similar to us — right now we’re just trying to finish what we got and get out of there as quick as we can and get away from it and go do something else.”

In the end it won’t be a first-class project, he said.