Brock signs contract to build arts school

(Source: Niagara This Week, January 18, 2013 | By Mike Zettel)

Brock has signed a construction contract with Bird Construction Group to build its new fine and performing arts facility in downtown St. Catharines.

Activity at the site of the old Canada Hair Cloth textile mill at 198 St. Paul Street is expected to start the week of Jan. 21, 2013, with site preparations beginning in early February.

Construction bids for the project were received in October 2012 and all six bids were over the University’s $26-million budget. The budget was based on the design prepared by Diamond Schmitt Architects, and on the cost estimate prepared by cost consultants Turner & Townsend cm2r.

Every bid was more than $6 million over the budget.

Bird Construction Group’s bid came in at $32.2 million, while the others were: ACCEL Construction Management – $32,400,000; Merit Contractors Niagara – $33,290,000; EllisDon Corporation – $33,469,000; Graham Construction & Engineering – $33,900,000; and Carillion Canada Inc – $33,950,000.

Brock then entered into successful negotiations with Bird Construction, the low bidder for the new home of the University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts facility, to reduce construction costs and move the project forward.

Brian Hutchings, vice-president of finance and administration, said they were able to shave between $2 and $2.5 million off the $6-million cost overrun. He said the new budget, which is still between $3.5 and $4 million above the original, was presented to Brock’s board of trustees, and it was approved.

Moving forward, he said Brock will attempt to fundraise the difference, noting that naming rights for the schools are still up for grabs. If the fundraising efforts are not successful, Brock may have to incur additional debt.

“Worst case, we’ll have to finance it,” Hutchings said.

As to how the savings were achieved, Scott Walker, director of planning, design and construction, said it wasn’t easy as they thought they had a lean project to begin with. He said when the bids came over budget for the city project, they double checked their numbers.

He said they looked at literally every aspect of the project and made between 100 and 150 little changes to trim costs.

He said the team worked with the academic department — the eventual end users for the school — to see what savings could be achieved.

Examples include using different materials, such as cheaper bricks and tiles, to eliminating drywall ceilings in some parts, narrowing sidewalks, and straightening out walls and a staircase that had been designed with a curve. They even found a cheaper model of toilets.

“The majority of the savings are made up of little pieces,” he said. “We left no stone unturned.”

At the end of the day, he said, the overall design looks very similar to the original.

Brock says there will be a mark the official start of the project with a groundbreaking ceremony in mid-February.

The facility will put about 500 students, faculty and staff into the city’s downtown when it relocates from Brock’s main campus. The new school will be adjacent to a new Performing Arts Centre and Spectator Facility, which are being built by the City of St. Catharines.

Hutchings said constructed is expected to wrap up by May 2015, with students starting classes the following September.

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