Behind The Blue Tarp: Controversy Around Golden City Manor Renovations

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
June 25th, 2009

Upon enquiring about the blue tarp that has graced the front of Golden City Manor for the past two years, it turned out that tarp was covering up more than just an unfinished piece of the building and that there was a significant story behind it, or more correctly a story on just who would be able to fix the problem.

The story began a little over two years ago when the Golden City Manor, a low cost, partially-subsidized seniors’ housing facility, began to note some needed repairs to the 35 year old building. Originally they hired a local builder to come in and fix up a few things including re-bracing the decks and patios. It was also about this time when Golden City Manor (One of the last remaining volunteer society run seniors housing facilities in the area) moved their mortgage from CMHS to the BC Housing Commission. (BCHC)

At that time the local builder they used to help with the fix ups informed them that he wouldn’t be able to help with the big renovations down the road as he and many area contractors are not bonded and therefore not able to work on BCHC projects.

The current renovations are estimated to be in the 200 thousand dollar range, including replacing the front entrance, replacing the sun decks, replacing windows and doors and adding a new baseboard heating and ventilation system. From the beginning of the renovation process Maureen Wallis, the chairman of the Golden City Manor board lobbied for and pushed the BC Housing Commission to use local labour on the project wherever possible.

Operating under BCHC rules, there were a few contractors in town that were upset by a seeming inability to bid on the project.

“What we’re really complaining about is that they did not put it out to tender,” said an employee of K2 Contracting. “The architect firms are the ones that chose the contractors to use on that one and they are all out of the Lower Mainland, and we can just bid as a sub contractor. That’s our main bitch. It wasn’t posted on BC bid, the normal places for public projects to be posted.”

Upon talking to a representative at the housing commission, I was informed that the project did indeed go out for bid. As the contract had just been awarded within the last 48 hours, they didn’t have the information yet on who the winner was. The Housing Commission did emphasize that they asked everyone bidding on the project to use local labour wherever possible.

While a local environmental assessment engineer was hired for that portion of the work, the Housing Commission’s explanation about why Rossland contractors felt they were being shut out of the project led this reporter to believe that there were not any contractors in Rossland that had the proper certifications to bid on the work.

For this particular project it was required that all general contractors be bondable and that they have a building envelope renovation licence. While it is unknown whether any Rossland contractors meet both of those requirements, K2 Contracting, for example are in the process of becoming bonded so that they will be able to bid on housign commission projects in the future. Some contractors in town who wished to remain anonymous scoffed at the idea, saying a building envelope renovation license was just a cash grab on the government’s part and takes too long to apply for.

To obtain the required licence, contractors must first apply for registration with a home warranty company, complete the licence application, pay a $600 fee with a $500 annual renewal fee and then send the whole package off to the Home Owners’ Protection Office.

The belief in some parts of town is that the BC Housing Commission maintains an approved list of contractors and that this list contains no local companies. The housing commission’s media representative explained the process.

“Because it’s a building envelope project, it required specialized general contractors who are experienced and they also have to have a building envelope renovation licences. The winning bid is selected by a consultant we hire. We don’t keep an approved list of contractors: we just rely on the consultant’s recommendation. That’s the usual process for us. We anticipate the consultant will recommend a contractor with the majority of the sub-trades from the area because it just makes economic sense for them, and because we specifically mentioned in the bid to use as much local labour as they could.”

Local sub contractors are now welcome to bid to the winning general contractor on the project. While this will create some local work, the job still goes through an out of town general contractor who then will sub contract locals to complete the work, taking a cut along the way.

While this situation may not be ideal for some, these are the rules the Housing Commissions set out and if contractors want to be a part of it they have to play by the rules. The Housing Commission confirmed that they are not actively excluding anyone from bidding on projects and that if local general contractors want to bid on the project they are welcome to, as long as they meet the requirements. This means first, being bonded and for this particular project having the required licence.

Now that the winning bid has been awarded, as part of the agreement the winner must be on site within twenty days to commence work. At that time, Golden City Manor hopes that locals will be doing the majority of the actual work on the building, and that Maureen’s two years of asking for local workers will be fruitful.

“I asked them to use as many local people as possible. I’ve been insisting on this for a few years now so hopefully they will come through,” concluded Wallis.

Categories: Issues

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