Expansion canceled

By Robert Granger

“All they had to do was sign a paper–and instead they faxed a letter that destroyed the building process.”

This is how Students’ Union President Paul Galbraith describes the events which led to the most recent, and the most dramatic, postponement of MacEwan Student Centre expansion.

Although the project has been on the drawing board for several years, our current SU came as close as is possible to starting the project without actually doing so: they’d accepted a bid from a construction company, come to a consensus with the university about the price tag and design, and had their fingers crossed. Despite their efforts and those of the university, it was not meant to be.

“Since October, after the project went to tender in September, the process has been out of our [SU] hands,” said Galbraith. “It was all up to the university. We put pressure on them to do it properly, but the tender process fell through with the construction company.”

Tendering, another word for bidding, is a legalistic process that sometimes takes several months. In this case, the university and SU put forth a proposal to a meeting of architects and construction companies. Following this, the companies bid on the project. A construction company had been selected, a contract drawn up, and all that awaited was the university’s signature. Unfortunately, there was a signing deadline of Dec. 14, which the university did not meet.

“Expansion has been delayed due to the U of C’s inability to meet a required deadline,” said SU Vice-president Operations and Finance, Amanda Affonso. “Unfortunately, this means the bids are no longer valid and the tender process must begin again.”

The question is why the university failed to approve the tender.

“Everything was ready to go,” said Galbraith. “On the last business day prior to the deadline, instead of signing the agreement the university sent a letter of intent to the construction company, saying it accepted the contract conditionally. It was going to pick up the tender with an addendum–you don’t hold an $8 million project hostage with an addendum in a letter.”

The construction company, cana Construction Co. Ltd., then sent a letter to the Material Management Department of the university stating that the letter of intent “is not a valid letter of acceptance/intent” for several reasons. First and foremost, cana pulled out of the project because the letter of intent was conditional (which is unusual in the construction business), contained no commitment or approval from the U of C, had no established contract amount, did not define the scope of work, and would prevent cana from awarding contracts to subcontractors without unconditional approval from the U of C.

“The university thought it had accepted the tender, which it hadn’t,” said Galbraith. “This caused the construction company to back out. They weren’t happy with the way it was proceeding. I can tell you that they weren’t uncomfortable with the su’s role in it–we were always exceptionally professional.”

U of C Vice-president Finance and Services Keith Winter, under whose jurisdiction the project falls, said he was unaware of the company’s attitude toward the addendum. “In the course of the last few months, we [the university] had come to conclude that things had come to the surface that needed to be dealt with,” said Winter. “Once these issues are dealt with, the project will continue.”

Winter said the project is much more complicated than people understand.

“The issue here is not expansion alone… of course there’s much more than expansion,” said Winter. “It involves the Multi-Use Facility, renovation of MacEwan Hall, and changes to MacEwan Student Centre. There is financial business to be worked out, as well as the Operating Agreement with the SU to be taken care of. When we’ve got it all dealt with, we’ll proceed.”

The failure of the university to sign the contract followed the walk-out of the SU from tuition consultation in early December. When asked if there was any possible connection between the two events, Galbraith said: “I hope not. I hope we’re in the kind of university where that wouldn’t happen.”

“There is no connection between those two events,” said Winter.

The university’s shortfalls have come as an unpleasant surprise to many.

“At a SU Executive and university Executive meeting, we were told that the university would use expansion as leverage,” continued Galbraith. “The mistakes made by the university aren’t the kind made by an organization that’s built many structures in the past.”

“The university has built a number of buildings to create this campus. They are aware of the tender process and claim to be experts. I would hope that they would not jeopardize a student building by adding or complicating the tender bid,” said Affonso.

One of the major concerns is when the process will pick up where it was left off.

“These kinds of things happen all the time,” said Winter. “It’s not the end of the world. We’ll put out a new tender in the near future–in the next few months.”

In the meantime, the SU will continue to collect the $7 per student per semester fee that has been levied for the last 2 years.

“Yes, the funds will still be used. We will build on the work already done. Our goal is to finish the project that was started,” said Galbraith.

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