Q.P. F.H. Collins May 13, 2013

Question re:  F.H. Collins Secondary School reconstruction

Mr. Silver:    Last week the Government of Yukon announced an update on the F.H. Collins school project. The minister was pleased with media reports on Friday, including the story about a new design being chosen.

After spending at least $6 million on the project, the Yukon Party decided to start all over again in the spring. That money is already spent. I believe that the government made the wrong decision the first time around when it decided not to rebuild the tech and trades wing at the school. Unfortunately the media coverage from Friday confirms that the trade wing will not be rebuilt in the new school. I asked the minister on the second day of this spring sitting if he would consider including a new tech and trades wing in the new school. He replied at that time: “…the short answer to the member’s question is yes.” My question is why, or did he in fact change his mind?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    I also said in this House previously that we were looking for a design that had been built successfully and economically in another jurisdiction. Obviously with last week’s announcement we did find that design in Alberta. The Government of Alberta graciously provided that design to us at no cost.

When it comes to the tech and trade wing, the members opposite will also remember a number of weeks ago when we debated a motion on the floor of this House calling for the potential establishment of a career and technology centre. That is something I think we could do with the existing trades wing at F.H. Collins some time in the future. To replace that aspect of F.H. Collins was determined to be too costly. The existing building will require some upgrades. That is what we plan to do and use it for dual-credit training and other aspects for trades and technology going forward.

Mr. Silver:    Mr. Speaker, the recently completed feasibility study for the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining at Yukon College demonstrates a strong demand for these types of skills. At one of our operating mines, only 25 percent of the workforce is local. They are looking for tradespeople.

The Minister of Education himself has spoken about the need for this type of training. If the school is being rebuilt, the trades wing should be a part of that new rebuild. I’m very disappointed that this government is moving ahead in a way that treats the trades students as second-class. In announcing the new design, the government was unable to tell Yukoners what it will cost to build the newly designed school.

My question for the minister: What is the construction budget for the new design?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    As mentioned by the Deputy Minister of Highways and Public Works, as well as the Minister of Highways and Public Works, in the media and while doing interviews last week, that particular design was built in Alberta for $21 million. Obviously there is a Yukon context to this and a time context that will mean that the construction budget for this project will of course be higher than the $21 million.

But again it’s a design that has been constructed successfully and economically in another jurisdiction. That is what we have been consistent in saying. Obviously the initial design that was put together came in $10 million, or 21 percent, over pre-construction estimates, which wouldn’t have been fiscally responsible for us to proceed with that project. Obviously before the first tradesperson arrives on-site and you’re already $10 million overbudget, everyone in here, and certainly most Yukoners I’ve talked to, can understand that that’s not a project that should proceed.

We’re very committed to the trades; the existing trades and tech wing over there was contemplated to be kept in the first design. We are going to keep it in the second design and make some improvements to it and offer training to Yukon students who are looking to get involved in the trades going forward. We are very excited about that and some of the other initiatives, such as the mobile trades unit that will be arriving here in September.

Mr. Silver:    The Government of Yukon should be taking the time needed and properly plan the new F.H. Collins project. They should start by examining the idea of putting a tech and trades wing in it. This tech and trades wing should include CAD training, robotics and other trades that are in high local demand. When the Premier announced he was pulling the plug on the old design of F.H. Collins he said the improved construction budget, as detailed by two separate independent estimators, was $38.6 million.

For weeks, the government has refused to release these independent estimates. It is my understanding that at least one of these estimates shows that the government knew when it tendered the project that it would come in overbudget. Why is the government being so secretive with this information?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    With respect to the design work, a substantial amount of consultation led up to the decision. Obviously, the building advisory committee met for years putting together what they wanted to see as the core elements in the new school. The lowest bid for the first design, as mentioned, came in at around $48 million. There was only approximately $50 million left in the budget. Surely anyone in this House, as well as most Yukoners I’ve spoken to, agree that you shouldn’t start such a project. In order to be fiscally responsible, we made the best decision not to start that project. We’ve taken a lot of the work that was done by the building advisory committee, incorporated it when we were looking for a new design, and picked the design from Alberta that best-suited the number of elements the building advisory committee wanted to see in the new school. Again, in the tech and trades wing — that existing structure was determined during the building advisory committee work that it was fine and would remain part of the new school, and it’s going to be in this new design. That’s what we’ll use for tech and trades.

We’re excited about the opportunities that we have to turn that into what we talked about a couple of weeks ago, and all voted unanimously in support of, which was the creation of a career and technology centre.