Tendering process called ‘problematic’ - Whitehorse Star, November 5, 2013

Interim Liberal Leader Sandy Silver wants to know what the premier has to say to the companies “that wasted their time and money” preparing bids for the F.H. Collins Secondary School reconstruction tender.

Premier Darrell Pasloski doesn’t seem inclined to respond.

Instead, he offered another iteration of the answer he’s been giving since last Thursday.

“In May of 2012, management board approved the construction budget for F.H. Collins School of $38.6 million,” is how Pasloski began his response during question period Monday.

“When the tender was closed – the deadline – and we opened up all the tenders, we found that the low bid was almost $10 million more than what we had budgeted,” he continued.

“... If it had come mildly above our budget with the addition of the geothermal and with the addition of the temporary gym, I’m sure that the minister of Education would have considered bring it back to management board.”

The government knew it was likely not feasible to build the school with the addition of the geothermal heat and a temporary gym for its original budget, as indicated by an independent estimate.

But it chose not to increase the budget for the project. Both opposition parties have suggested that’s because the government had no intention of awarding the tender.

Larry Turner, the president of the Yukon Contractor’s Association, wouldn’t comment specifically on the government’s intentions.

He was, however, “surprised they didn’t increase the budget to deal with the supposed add-ons,” he told the Star this morning.

“I can understand some of the choices made at certain times, but I find it kind of a pain in the neck. They were advised or at least had information that it was going to cost more than the budget they had and they didn’t really give that any consideration.

“Obviously it’s problematic. Anytime you have a job tendered, and there’s been several this year that have come in significantly over-budget and are therefore cancelled, that’s painful for us,” Turner said.

He cited the Beaver Creek fire hall project from the past summer as another example.

“Not only does it mean that we’ve wasted a bunch of time, and I’m not speaking personally because I didn’t bid on any of these jobs, but not only do contractors waste their time but this is a year that doesn’t have a lot of work happening compared to the last few, so people are anxious to get work.”

Turner said the contractor’s association has been in fairly regular talks with the government trying to find solutions to some of these issues.

One option would be allowing general contractors to examine plans before they are tendered to provide general comments.

But Turner would ideally like to see the government’s construction budget released with the tender.

“That way, you can look at it and decide whether you want to bid or not. If you think you can come close to that budget, then you’d go ahead and put forward a bid,” he explained.

The government’s concern, as Turner told it, is that it would prejudice the bids.

But “nobody’s going to bid to the budget just because it’s the budget. It’s a pretty competitive world out there,” he noted.

Liz Hanson, the leader of the NDP official Opposition, said this morning the contractors’ request is based on their past experiences with government projects.

Essentially, the contractors have no trust in the government’s project management, she said.

Hanson wouldn’t comment specifically on Turner’s suggestion that the government release its construction budget with tenders.

However, she suggested that if the government’s tenders were consistently accurate, and contractors could trust they were accurate, it would be effectively the same thing as having the budget.

The NDP also queried the government on its handling of the F.H. Collins project Monday in the house.

The premier could not be reached for further comment before this afternoon’s press deadline.

A new design of the school was re-tendered last week. The tender will close in December.