F.H. Collins gets a design do over

It's back to the drawing board for the new F.H. Collins school. The government announced on Monday that it is trashing the current design and starting over because the price tag for the new building is too high.

It’s back to the drawing board for the new F.H. Collins school.

The government announced on Monday that it is trashing the current design and starting over because the price tag for the new building is too high. When bids on the construction contracts were unsealed last week, the lowest was almost $10 million higher than the government had budgeted for.

“We can do a lot with $10 million, including continue to deliver more clean water, build more housing for seniors, continued delivered health care for Yukoners, build roads or bridges, and quite honestly have money to build other schools,” said Premier Darrell Pasloksi.

Instead, the government will build a “campus-style” facility with one central building and a number of satellites. The new school will borrow construction designs from schools in other jurisdictions, though exactly which designs will be used hasn’t been decided.

Education Minister Scott Kent said that whatever new design is chosen will have to be updated to meet the Yukon’s challenging weather conditions. The decision will lean on information gathered during consultations for the now-defunct design, but he won’t be reinstating the building advisory committee, which was disbanded in November.

“We have an awful lot of information from the fairly extensive process that was brought forward at the front end. We will of course work with the school council and other members of the school community as we look to make sure that the design of the school will fit in with the programming that is contemplated,” Kent said.

The new plans aren’t expect to leave students without a gym during construction, as the old plans would have.

The new facility won’t be built within the footprint of the existing school, as previously planned, so there will be no disruption of classes during the construction period.

As for the time frame, Kent said this latest hiccup could set the project back another year.

“Well, obviously, we’re still aiming for August of 2015. It could be 2016, but we’ll know a little more in the coming months as the project unfolds and we’re able to get a sense for how quickly we’re able to add those Yukon elements to the project designs,” Kent said.

To date, the territory has spent about $5 million on work to build the new school. Government officials contend that some of this spending went towards general planning that could still be applied to the new design.

When asked how the government could have miscalculated the costs so dramatically, Pasloski said that, essentially, he doesn’t know.

“This project had two independent estimators look at the project designs and give us their estimates. Both of those estimates were very close to one another. We can’t speculate why in this case the bids came in significantly – over 20 per cent – higher than what was estimated,” he said.

Liberal MLA Sandy Silver said he is exasperated with the latest in a series of stumbles the government has made on this and other major infrastructure projects in the territory.

“Well you can guess what’s going on in my mind, especially after the auditor general came out with that damning report (on the Watson Lake and Dawson City hospital projects) that a $72-million spend was politically motivated to begin with. Clearly there’s a problem inside the system,” Silver said.

Silver pointed to the much-ballyhooed sod-turning ceremony during the last election campaign, during which a smiling Pasloski stood next to a sign promising the new school would be delivered by this summer.

“When the initial conversations were going on and they decided to go with the glass-window modern art design looking building, at that point they scrapped the idea for a campus-style build. How far back down that rabbit hole are we going? If it was scrapped to begin with, why is it a good idea going forward?” Silver asked.

Silver said that rather than simply scrapping the project and importing a building design from Outside, the government should take the opportunity to look at the needs of Yukoners and Yukon businesses, especially the mining sector, and build a facility to accommodate that.

“My concern goes back to the tech and trade wing. I hope that if they do a campus-style build, the government realizes the necessity for modernizing that part of the current school,” Silver said, adding that the new F.H. Collins could be designed to work more closely with the Yukon College’s trades and mine training programs.

When the tenders for the now-defunct design went out, the project had a total budget of $56 million, with $38.6 million for construction. The lowest bid for construction – from B.C.-based EllisDon Corp. was nearly $48 million. There have been many delays with the project including a battle last fall over whether to provide a temporary gym, and the tenders themselves had over a dozen addenda added during the process.

Contact Jesse Winter at jessew@yukon-news.com