An official with Yukon’s Department of Highways and Public Works is defending the government’s decision to award a construction management contract worth more than $900,000 for Whitehorse’s upcoming French-language high school to a company from the Northwest Territories.
However, the Yukon Party and at least one local architecture firm are questioning why the contract wasn’t put up for public tender or given to a local company instead — and how the contract ballooned to $700,00 more than what a local firm was asking for the job.
In an interview Sept. 4, assistant deputy minister of capital planning Scott Milton said that his department followed “all of our own rules and directives” when it awarded the $904,086 contract to the Yellowknife-based Taylor Architectural Group (TAG). The contract takes on TAG as the “owner’s representative” for Phase 4 — the final phase — of the school’s construction, meaning TAG is serving as the Yukon government’s technical consultant leading up to and during construction.
The Yukon government originally assigned that work to Whitehorse-based firm Kobayashi + Zedda Architects (KZA) as part of a larger contract, awarded following a public tender in fall 2016, for services starting at Phase 1.
According to the Yukon’s tender management system, KZA had bid $198,607 for Phase 4 of the contract — a difference of more than $705,000 compared to the current price.
However, while KZA completed work for earlier phases, the contract was ended before Phase 4 started.
Milton said he couldn’t give specifics on why that happened, but that “it was during the design phase with Kobayashi + Zedda (that) we realized that the set of services we wanted for construction management were much more extensive than what we wanted initially on the project.”
“Both parties agreed to sort of not continue with the further phases of that contract,” he said.
Milton added that the “much more extensive services” the Yukon government wanted are the reason the contract more than quadrupled in value. The government added nine more services it wanted from the contractor, he said, including assisting in awarding the design-build contract and providing once-a-month site inspections and reports.
The Yukon government contracted TAG via a standing offer agreement (SOA) in April.
There are 35 contractors on the construction SOA list. Milton confirmed that there are Yukon firms but said he couldn’t comment on why they weren’t chosen.
“I can comment on why we chose Taylor… we chose Taylor because they were qualified, because they had competitively bid into our standing offer agreement list, and because we wanted the bigger construction project open to as many Yukon firms as possible,” he said, referring to the contract for the actual construction of the school.
Milton also denied accusations from the Yukon Party and several architectural firms that the contract was “sole-sourced” to TAG, saying the Yukon government made a “very conscious choice not to direct-award this (contract).”
“We chose to use our standing offer agreement, which is a competitively-procured process,” he said, adding in a follow-up email that the government chose a SOA instead of a public tender in order to stay within construction timelines. “We did follow all of our own rules and directives in putting this contract in place, and … local participation in the bigger project was a consideration in awarding it to Taylor.”
However, in an email, KZA co-founder Antonio Zedda said that decision — to award the construction management contract to TAG so that more Yukon companies could bid on the design-build tender — wasn’t for the government to make.
“Yukon contractors (and) consultants are surprised by the amount of the sole-source contract awarded and the means used to justify it by the Yukon Government,” he wrote. “How can the Yukon Government think it can decide what is best for Yukon businesses and justify a non-competitively awarded $900K contract to a NWT company?“
The Yukon Party’s interim leader, Stacey Hassard, echoed the sentiment in a press release Aug. 31.
“The Liberals don’t seem to understand that actions speak louder than words,” Hassard said in the release, describing the Yukon government’s approach as “insulting to Yukon’s hardworking private sector.”
“The Premier made the claim he was getting out of the business of doing business and now his government is telling the private sector how they should run their business … It is very concerning that the Liberals think they should be making business decisions on behalf of contractors instead of allowing them to decide for themselves.”
The awarding of the contract to TAG is now the subject of a complaint to the Yukon Contractors Association. Executive director Reanne Tarr confirmed the complaint existed but said she could not provide further details.
Construction of the $27.5-million French high school, to be built on the site of the now-demolished F.H. Collins Secondary School, is scheduled to begin May 2019, with a completion date of November 2020.
With files from Ashley Joanou
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com