POLITICS

Leaks, 'rubble' spiked reno costs for Newfoundland and Labrador legislature

05/14/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 05/13/2016 05:59 EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - There are renovation nightmares, and then there's the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature.

What started in 2009 as a window replacement job that was to cost about $20 million and take three years morphed into a $56 million structural overhaul that's only now entering the home stretch.

"There were lots of surprises," said Cory Grandy, the assistant deputy minister overseeing the project.

"When we started removing the brick, we have video of water actually pouring out of the building."

Once that cleared, contractors discovered a mess of haphazard materials used to finish interior support walls on the top levels of the 12-floor office tower that opened in 1960.

"Our project managers and consultants actually described it as being constructed with rubble," Grandy said during a tour of the building partly covered by tarp. "Various brick components and small pieces of block, it was almost like they were jammed in place and stuck together with mortar.

"It's not something that any of us had expected to see."

The 64-metre tower is exposed to fierce North Atlantic gales.

"That material had to be removed and replaced with proper masonry following typical construction processes," Grandy said.

He is as mystified as anyone about what happened. Construction of Confederation Building, built on a rise with a panoramic view of St. John's, started in 1958. It cost about $9 million.

"I wouldn't be able to speak to what was going on 60 years ago."

In addition to hundreds of new windows with a blue tint that replaced a former green hue, the Progressive Conservative government repeatedly raised the reno budget as other issues were exposed. The roof was completely redone, cracking limestone window casings were fixed, and faulty waterproofing membranes were sealed.

On the fabled eighth floor of the tower, home to the premier's office, there is a modest revamped washroom with a freshly tiled shower. The desk that has dominated the room since the days of Joey Smallwood was wrapped in cardboard and plastic.

"It was a little bit large to remove and we didn't want to risk damaging it, so we required our contractor to protect it and just work around it," Grandy said.

He expects staff will start moving back into the tower's top-floor offices later this month, with the project to finally wrap up by the fall.

A spokeswoman for the provincial NDP said the work needed to be done and the party isn't about to pounce on added costs.

"Nobody could have anticipated this stuff," Jean Graham said in an email.

Tom Osborne, the Liberal Official Opposition critic for transportation and works, said the $56 million price tag does not include blinds for new windows that were supposed to be glare-free. Staff complained they couldn't see computer screens, he said in an interview.

Osborne also questioned whether the premier's office needed all the work that was done.

"That's for government to justify."

The oil-reliant province is in a fiscal bind as it grapples with lower Brent crude prices and forecasts a deficit of $1.1 billion this year. More legislature upgrades aren't planned for now, Grandy said.

Work will be needed, however, to keep aging mechanical, electrical and ventilation equipment going, he added.

"Those systems are reaching the end of their useful life."

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