Lawyer James Tucker, left, and Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) Chief Jack Caesar, speak at a press conference in Whitehorse on December 11. The RRDC has hired a new construction company to finish building three much-needed duplexes after several issues with the previous company. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

Ross River Dena Council to rebuild duplexes after contractor abandons site

RRDC says Vancouver-based company built units that did not meet safety standards then left

The Ross River Dena Council has hired a new construction company to finish building three much-needed duplexes after, it says, the previous company failed to meet several deadlines, went over-budget and put up buildings with “significant structural problems.”

RRDC Chief Jack Caesar and Whitehorse-based lawyer James Tucker made the announcement at a press conference Dec. 12, where they also announced that the RRDC intends to take legal action against AYO Smart Housing Ltd.

According to Tucker, work on the duplexes, meant to provide relief for RRDC’s ongoing housing crisis, began in late 2016 after RRDC secured nearly $1.7 million in funding from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).

It then solicited proposals, Tucker said, ultimately signing a contract with AYO after the Vancouver-based company said it could construct three energy-efficient, mould-resistant duplexes outfitted with “modern energy systems” that would allow the units to put electricity back into the energy grid.

“(AYO) said they would construct the units using a very modern method of construction, employing Structural Insulated Panels and that construction would be quick,” Tucker said, adding that AYO also said it could complete the work within budget.

However, Tucker said, RRDC first noticed that there were “serious problems” when AYO failed to complete construction by March 15, 2017, the finish date specified in the contract, and asked for an extension to Nov. 6, 2017.

The second indication that something was amiss came in the summer of 2017, when, Tucker said, AYO told RRDC that it would now require an additional $700,000 to complete the project. RRDC also began having concerns about the safety and structural integrity of the semi-completed duplexes and, following consultation with INAC and Yukon Housing, brought in Whitehorse-based firm Stantec Architecture Ltd. to do an assessment.

RRDC told AYO about the assessment, Tucker said, but the day before the engineers arrived, AYO “abandoned” the site.

In its report, Stantec said that despite 80 per cent of the primary structural material being in place, “the investigation has uncovered numerous structural deficiencies, which all should be addressed and/or reviewed by contractor/designer.” The firm also found that the duplexes were about 40 per cent completed and had insulation and aesthetic issues including “multiple screws and nails currently penetrating the existing roof beams, which either need to be removed or hidden.”

“If the structural integrity of the buildings cannot be approved, we advise against any further resources being directed into the existing duplexes completion,” the report concludes.

Photos included in the report show, among other things, the “high content of moisture in the wall/roof panels,” “insulation missing at door frame,” “possible mold” on various beams and “gap between the roof beam and (panel), daylight visible.”

Tucker saw the duplexes first-hand.

“The panels are supposed to be joined together and they’re supposed to be tight so water, air can’t get through there,” he explained. “This was a big part of the problem with the buildings, I actually did stand inside the building and look up and you could see blue sky through the ceiling, so that was a hint, I guess, (that) there was an issue.”

Tucker said that when AYO abandoned the site, it left the unfinished structures exposed to the elements, causing further damage and waterlogging the panels. The duplexes must now all be torn down to at least the foundation.

RRDC formally terminated its contract with AYO Oct. 6. Tucker said there was “some correspondence and communication” from the company afterwards that has since ceased.

“They were asking for more money, and we made it clear to them that RRDC was not going to pay more money. It was a fix-priced contract and their obligation was to build those duplexes for that agreed-upon price,” Tucker said, adding that the First Nation also began hearing from AYO’s subcontractors and suppliers, which said they hadn’t been paid by the company.

In total, RRDC paid AYO $793,392.25, Tucker said, which it hopes to get back via legal action.

The News made numerous attempts to contact AYO without success. Several phone numbers previously associated with the company have been disconnected and company email addresses bounced back. A message left on what appeared to be CEO Yoga Yogendran’s voicemail was not returned, as was a message sent to another organization he appears to be affiliated with.

In the meantime, RRDC signed a contract with TSL Contractors Ltd. last week to demolish the existing duplexes and re-build them, Tucker said. The contract stipulates that the work, in total, will cost no more than $2.6 million, with a goal completion date of March 31, 2018. RRDC will be fronting $900,000 of the cost and has asked INAC to cover whatever the remaining costs will be.

An INAC spokesperson said Dec. 12 that the department is still in the process of budgeting for the project and hasn’t decided how much funding will be put into the project yet.

Despite the setbacks, Caesar said that RRDC remains “hopeful” about the duplexes and other housing projects for the community.

“It’s positive right now,” he said. “We’re working with INAC and (the Yukon government) to create that capacity in our communities, so that’s very appreciated.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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