Parliament Hill Shower Repairs Cost $28k, Took A Year

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Documents show that badly installed tiles in a set of House of Commons showers took almost a year and more than $28,000 to resolve. CP
Documents show that badly installed tiles in a set of House of Commons showers took almost a year and more than $28,000 to resolve. CP

Newly released documents that show how replacing a few metres of tile turned into a months-long job and cost almost $30,000 shed some light on how even simple repair jobs get complicated when they're on Parliament Hill.

The documents show that badly installed tiles in a set of House of Commons showers took almost a year and more than $28,000 to resolve.

And they show that while officials told a reporter the delay didn't drive up the project's cost, in fact a request for extra work meant the project went from just over $18,000 to a total cost of $28,246.

The documents are a peek into how federal government contracting works, at a time when Parliament Hill is undergoing at least $5 billion in repairs over 25 years.

Contracting and repair work on Parliament Hill are complicated matters, in which Public Works, the House of Commons, the Senate and sometimes the National Capital Commission have to co-ordinate planning and spending.

The Hill is just getting started on massive renovations, which are expected to take 25 years and will repair the three main buildings and surrounding buildings, as well as add an underground visitor centre. The renovations have been pegged at $5 billion, but former auditor general Sheila Fraser told the House government operations committee in 2011 that the cost is likely to rise.

The plans announced already include a glass dome to be fitted over an outdoor courtyard in the East Block for MPs to hold their sittings while the main Centre Block is being renovated.

The relatively small repair job to the showers was intended to re-tile the floor and replace the bottom six inches of tile on the walls of the showers in both the women's and men's locker rooms, plus add a water-repellent finish. An Ottawa interior design firm also suggested replacing the carpet in the changing area and replacing it with tile.

The locker rooms are located next to the Hill fitness centre in a building about two blocks from Parliament Hill. The five-year-old gym lets anyone who works on the Hill use it basically free of charge — everyone from political staffers to those providing maintenance and security support to journalists in the press gallery. There's a one-time $25 user fee and then the fitness centre is accessible all day, every day.

Put on hold after approval

A Feb. 11, 2011, evaluation by the design firm 4té Inc. found no sign of a waterproofing membrane under the tiles and said the size and thickness of the original tile wasn't appropriate for a heavy-traffic, high-moisture shower. The type of tile led to "more chance of failure" and water penetration, the evaluation said.

The job was approved in a June 22, 2011, letter from Public Works' Parliamentary Precinct Branch for an estimated cost of $18,361.87, to begin July 11 and end Aug. 22.

But on June 30, a House of Commons project officer put it on hold, saying he didn't have all the information needed to let the project go ahead, including "detailed construction specs/methodology."

The specifications for the fitness centre showers were required "to reassure the House that the work is undertaken according to industry standards. It is also important for the House to include this information in our files for reference in the event we encounter performance issues in the future," Stephane Pilon said in an email, later confirming, "we are actually enquiring about having an engineering firm provide full detailed project specs."

"Seeing we are getting close to the end of day," Pilon wrote at 2:26 p.m., "I must ask [Public Works and Government Services Canada] and [building owner] Morguard to postpone all work ... until further notice."

A manager from Public Works' parliamentary precinct got back to him an hour later.

6-month delay before work started

"Contractors are ready to commence work now," Lissa Laplante wrote.

"The request today could postpone our schedule — once an engineering firm is engaged, quotes provided, file re-processed, scheduling, etc., we will be looking at approximately a two-month delay or more."

The delay ended up being much longer than that. The repair job was supposed to close down the gym in June 2011 for about four to six weeks. It ended up being closed from June until Jan. 23, 2012. And it was closed despite the work not starting until Dec. 19.

A spokeswoman for the House of Commons said all decisions would have been made in collaboration with Public Works and that she couldn't respond further by deadline because she had to review the documents.

"If either party felt like review was needed they would pause for review," Heather Bradley said in an email to CBC News.

A call to Morguard, the company that manages the building, wasn't returned.

Public Works wasn't immediately able to respond to a request for comment.

The design company that had first flagged the problem submitted a list of fees on Sept. 27, 2011, seven months after it first proposed a fix for the problems. The list included an estimated six-hour site visit to examine the tiles at a cost of $497 and five hours to select new floor tile to replace the carpeting in the locker area, for $414.

At the end of November, the team in charge was still discussing prices and waiting for permission to start the work. The companies providing services and products for the repair submitted their prices between Nov. 8 and Nov. 30.

Project cost $10,000 more than expected

The documents also show that Public Works officials, having told CBC News that the delays didn't cost more money, debated how to explain that in response to a follow-up question.

The project did cost the House of Commons, but didn't cost PWGSC anything extra.

"The delay was prompted by a request from the client [the House of Commons] to verify the plans and specifications of the project," said a draft response to a question from CBC News on Dec. 29, 2011.

"The cost associated with this review was not part of the project cost provided earlier as they were covered separately by the client."

But, as one official pointed out, the requester was "interested in the total cost and not the costs covered by one area of government."

So the response to the question of why the delay didn't increase the cost was shortened to say "the delay was not caused by additional tasks."

The fitness centre, which doesn't seem to have required repairs itself, reopened Jan. 23, 2012.

The locker rooms are currently closed again for maintenance. The gym, however, remains open for use.

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