No one can accuse Jason Coakwell of not getting to the point.
At the very beginning of an Aug. 27 public information session on proposed renovations to the Don Stewart Recreation Centre, Coakwell got right to the current estimated cost – $21.3 million.
“That’s just a construction estimate. That’s not what it’s actually going to cost,” said the town councillor, who chairs the building committee for the renovations, noting work is ongoing on details.
Coakwell said he was getting e-mails asking how much the project might cost.
The councillor said the estimated cost will be narrowed in advance of an Oct. 5 ratepayers’ plebiscite on borrowing money for the renovations.
“But it’s a good starting number,” he said.
The possible cost is among a number of unanswered questions about the project, including who would do the renovations and how would the loan be paid off.
The meeting heard from Duncan Cooke, president of Arcan Construction Ltd., and a representative of the Hay River Builders Coalition, which formed earlier this year to become involved in the project.
Cooke explained he and Jack Rowe, president of Rowe’s Construction and a sometimes competitor, brought an unsolicited proposal to council on ways to keep the work in Hay River and lower the cost as much as possible.
However, Cooke stressed the Hay River Builders Coalition is more than Arcan and Rowe’s, listing other involved companies.
“We are going to create opportunities for all the building suppliers,” he said. “We’re going to create employment and training. We are going to keep this project 100 per cent local.”
Cooke said council agreed to the idea.
“We started working on this project in July,” he said, adding that began by offering input on ways to reduce cost.
“We have until the third week of September, as the builders coalition, to come back to town council with a detailed design-build proposal with a stipulated price that we are willing to live with, if the plebiscite approves this project,” Cooke said. “Then the wheels really start turning.”
In the construction world, design-build means a project using the design and construction services contracted to a single entity.
Coun. Keith Dohey, a member of the building committee, said council liked what it heard from the Hay River Builders Coalition and gave the go-ahead for it to work with the committee and architects.
“There’s no agreement that says the builders coalition is guaranteed to do this work. At the end of the day, we’re still a government,” said Dohey, adding council has to go through due process and award the contract properly.
Cooke stated a negotiated contract wouldn’t be a gift to the coalition.
“We have to earn this project,” he said. “We have to earn that through the trust of the community.”
Noting she liked what she heard from the builders coalition, community resident Eileen Gour asked Coakwell how far behind would the project become if ratepayers want the town to go to tender, and if that would jeopardize the 2018 Arctic Winter Games in Hay River.
“It’s a tight schedule,” Coakwell replied. “There’s construction right up to three months before the games. If we don’t use that idea and we have to go through the tender process to put out an RFP, that’s going to take months.”
However, he also said the Arctic Winter Games bid committee has proven that the community can host the event with existing facilities.
Coakwell wondered if Hay River really wants to host an international competition in the existing Rec Centre.
“We’ve got to do something with it eventually,” he said. “It’s a perfect opportunity to showcase a brand-new facility.”
Coakwell explained the plebiscite will be on borrowing money for the project, and how that’s going to be paid for will be detailed in a business plan.
“Is there going to be a tax implication? Probably, but we really have no idea what that can be,” he said, adding that the town will have to look at all capital projects, other sources of funding, formula funding from the GNWT, and other ways of raising money.
Joe Melanson, president of the Hay River Chamber of Commerce, said he loves the renovation plan, but wants more information as to the possible cost.
“It’s going to be hard for a guy like me to say that I’m on board until you give me some numbers,” he said.
The information session, attended by about 40 people, began with a lengthy description from architects on what the two years of renovations will involve.
It includes a more open interior, an addition at the front, an expanded community centre, relocating seating to the other side of the ice surface, an activity space to replace the old pool, a walking track, more insulation, new change rooms, a new roof for the curling rink and much more.
“I think the idea is wonderful,” said Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen, noting she likes that the Rec Centre is staying in the downtown core as a hub of activities.
Coakwell added that by the time the plebiscite is over, the Town of Hay River will have spent about $650,000 on the initiative.
– Paul Bickford