Like most pandemic projects, it’s going to cost the city more than expected to widen the sidewalks on its busiest pedestrian street.
Halifax regional council’s Audit and Finance Standing Committee met Thursday, and considered an item added at the last minute: a budget increase for the Spring Garden Road streetscaping project.
The municipality has been planning for the project for more than a decade, with a goal of prioritizing pedestrians with wider sidewalks, narrower vehicular lanes, better bus stops and more trees.
With the detailed design complete, HRM went to tender for the project in March and received three bids, all over budget, as CBC’s Pam Berman first reported last month. The lowest bid, from Brycon Construction, was $11.7 million, taxes in — 23% higher than anticipated, according to a staff report to the committee on Thursday.
“The bids received represent fair market value due to the competitive procurement process. The overage above the estimated value is consistent with anecdotal reports from the development industry of general construction cost increases of 30% to 40% this year,” planner and project manager Elora Wilkinson wrote in the staff report.
Wilkinson told the committee that after receiving the high bids, staff at HRM went to the lowest bidder, Brycon, to negotiate the number down. The scope of work was changed to remove some paving on Queen and Brenton streets, adjust the “material requirements for gravels and excavation,” and substitute “one of the paver types with an alternative.”
The municipality also talked to Halifax Water about a planned water main replacement, and the utility said it wasn’t necessary. That brought the cost down, too.
“They have assured us that the reason they were looking at replacing it in the first place was simply because of the age, not because it needed replacement or any issues,” Wilkinson told councillors. “They’ve had no breaks and they are very confident that the water main is going to last quite a few years, 15-20 years into the future.”
The changes brought Brycon’s bid down to $10.5 million. But that’s still over budget, and staff said they need an extra $2.7 million in the project account. About $1 million of that will be recouped from Halifax Water, Bell Aliant, Heritage Gas, and Westwood Developments, who are all cost-sharing portions of the project. The rest will come from a reserve account.
“Staff do not recommend changing the design or decreasing the tender any more than has been done already, as any further reductions will begin to significantly impact the design intentions of this streetscaping project; impacting how the street will function; and reducing this project from a beautification project to a street renewal project. It is important to note that a significant amount of engagement with the public went into the final design,” Wilkinson wrote in the staff report.
“Additionally, any further design changes will require significant changes to the construction documents which will add more design fees and take up valuable time, making it unlikely that construction could happen this year.”
For Coun. Waye Mason, who’s not on the committee but joined Thursday’s meeting because the area is in his district, that’s crucial. Mason said businesses don’t want construction next summer or the summer after when things are open again after COVID-19.
“Now is the time, with traffic volumes so down and there’s no tourism, to do Spring Garden Road and have that disruption,” he said.
Mason wasn’t surprised by the inflated cost, and neither was Mayor Mike Savage, who said anyone who’s had work done on their house in the last year knows how “costs have spiralled.”
“We all get sticker shock on certain projects, but when you look at the investment and the importance of this area, to me, it makes sense,” Savage said.
The committee voted unanimously in favour of a motion recommending that regional council top up the project budget and award the contract.
If council votes yes, work is expected to begin this summer, broken into three phases to accommodate Westwood’s redevelopment of the old Mills Brothers property. In the first phase, the contractor will complete the entire project except for the stretch in front of that property.
“The start of Phase II will coincide with the backfilling of the Mills Block development after the building foundations have reached street grade and is expected to take place by October 1, 2021,” reads the agreement between Westwood president Danny Chedrawe and HRM.
That phase, expected to be complete by the end of 2021, will include all underground work in front of the development, along with the curb and a temporary sidewalk.
The third phase, completing the work in front of the development, “will coincide with the completion of the Mills Block development building construction and is expected to be in the fall of 2022 or the spring of 2023.”
That accommodation will cost Westwood $85,000.
Halifax Water’s share of the project comes to $590,000, Bell Aliant’s is $329,000, and Heritage Gas will pay about $2,800. The total HRM cost is $9.5 million.