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Prince George's new downtown pool potentially $1.5 million over budget

Additional costs due to steel primer failure and unsuitable soil, pipes
new pool steel beams
Beams going up in the new downtown pool construction.

Although the downtown pool replacement project is less than halfway finished, it’s projected to be about $1.5 million over budget.

The additional costs are associated with two main issues: primer failing on the pool’s structural steel beams as well as pipes and unsuitable soil found below the swimming pool tanks that had to be removed.

In a report delivered at tonight’s city council meeting (July 26), acting director of civic operations Blake McIntosh, explained that in mid-December 2020 primer-coated structural steel for the new pool was delivered in “good order” and subsequently stored under cover on-site.

But by early 2021, the city says it was evident that the primer had started to fail and would need remediation. The primer coat is essential to protect the steel against a humid environment.

“To limit impacts to the construction schedule it was determined the best course of action would be to ship the structural steel offsite to a controlled environment and remediate the primer and a local fabrication shop,” said McIntosh.

He said the primer failure is likely due to “inadequate structural steel primer specifications.”

McIntosh said initially the city first thought the cost of the primer remediation could be absorbed into the project budget contingency, but as it's now close to completion the estimated additional cost to the project is approximately $1 million.

However, McIntosh noted the city is trying to recover that extra cost.

“The city has taken steps to put the appropriate parties on notice and that it intends to seek compensation for the cost of the primer remediation,” said McIntosh, adding that this work also caused a two-week delay to the construction schedule.

Even before the steel primer issue, the city ran into problems while excavating for swimming pool tanks.

The contractor discovered unknown pipes and unsuitable soils within the tank footprints. A geotechnical consultant monitoring the soil conditions determined that the pipes and surrounding soil would need to be removed and replaced with engineered fill.

This work will be an addition to the original project budget and is estimated that the cost will be $553,000.

“A comprehensive review of the budget is ongoing and projecting an overextended construction contingency that will require further consideration,” said McIntosh, adding that once the project is at 80 per cent completion the city will have a better idea of the final impacts of these unexpected issues.  

“As the project progresses actual budget impacts will be realized.”

To date, the construction project is currently 42 per cent complete and $15.4 million has been spent on the $36.25 million project.

Coun. Cori Ramsay asked if any pre-work had been done to assess the underground conditions and suggested council look at additional contingency funds for downtown projects knowing the frequency of soil and piping issues with downtown builds.

“There was some preliminary work done in 2017 and subsequent to that in 2019 there was more investigation,” said McIntosh. “It is tough because we feel they did investigate the site but maybe they could have been more thorough. It appears the pipes and the unsuitable soil could have been privy pits from way back in history that just got buried.”

City Manager Walter Babicz said these concerns will be addressed in the capital project management review which the city has recently begun.

“There is thorough interviews being done as a part of that project and this issue will help inform the work, “said Babicz. “These factors are being taken into consideration by the consultant.”

Coun. Ramsay thanked administration for bringing these issues to council’s attention before project completion.

“I think we are on the precipice of the old way of doing things with the new way of doing things and I know perhaps the public is going to be a little outraged there is another outage but we are fixing things and I think it’s kind of where this project falls in that cycle,” said Ramsay.

“I do recognize this is an outage. We don’t want to see those types of things and we are doing all of this work to make sure these don’t happen moving forward and I do believe in the work we are doing, despite the fact it’s not a good feeling to see an outage at 40 per cent completion."

Coun. Murry Krause also emphasized the exact overage may not be as large as anticipated.

“We shouldn’t assume we are over the $1.5 million. We are looking for some cost recovery on the steel primer,” said Krause.

“That money may indeed be coming back,” added Acting Mayor Garth Frizzell, before the report was received for information.

Currently being constructed are: the swimming pool tanks, concrete floor, steel stud infill to the exterior walls, cap sheet for the roofing and concrete block partition walls. For the remainder of 2021 the downtown pool project will focus on the completion of the building envelope and initiation of interior finishes.

In Feb. 2021, council amended the $35.75 million Downtown Replacement Pool capital project budget to include an additional $500,000 for a NinjaCross obstacle course.

Funding for the $36.25 million capital budget project includes $25.5 million of Municipal Finance Authority borrowed funds, $10 million in grant funding from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, and a $750,000 capital contribution from the Regional District Fraser-Fort George.

Construction began in 2020 and is close to halfway towards its scheduled Aug. 2022 construction completion date.