Costly project occupies Paradise council

By Mark Squibb/September 16, 2022

A big story back in 2019 was the struggle faced by municipalities to upgrade their water treatment facilities to meet federal mandates to reduce the amount of untreated sewage that ends up in Canada’s oceans.

In fact, Mount Pearl, Paradise, and St. John’s held a joint press conference at the Riverhead Wastewater Treatment Facility (which was due to be upgraded by 2020) in July of 2019 to request further federal assistance on the matter.

Shortly thereafter, COVID hit, the world went sideways for a few years, and the new regulations were all but forgotten.

But now, it seems, the federal mandate may once again saunter back into the headlines.

Last week, Paradise council passed a motion to award an “Owner’s Advisor” contract for upgrades to the St. Thomas Line Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Councillor Deborah Quilty, chair of the Infrastructure and Engineering Committee, noted the Town has received $18 million in federal funding to complete the federally mandated upgrades to the plant.

“Due to the value of this project, it was determined that a design-build approach would be taken,” said Quilty. “The first step of which is engaging a consultant to act as owner advisor to prepare and aid in the design build request for proposals.”

Quilty said that due to the highly technical nature of the work, the scoring breakdown for the owner’s advisor was set at 85 technical points and 15 financial points.

“This project has an approximate timeline of four years to complete, both the design and the construction of the upgrade,” said Quilty. “The owner advisor has tasks to perform at every stage of the project during the life of the project.”

The technical review of proposals was completed by provincial and municipal staff in August.

R.V. Andersen Associates Ltd. scored a technical score of 77.05 points out of a possible 85 points and a financial score of 9.78 out of a possible 15 points, for a total of 86.83, with a contract price of $1.525 million.

Another bidder, CBO Ltd., scored a technical score of 67.67 and 15 points for the financial component, for a total of 82.67, with a contract price of $995,290.

 A third proponent, Dylan Consulting Ltd., came in with a technical score of 64.76 and a financial score of 13.49, for a total of 78.25 at a contract price of around $1.1 million.

The cost of hiring an owner’s advisor is expected to be about eight percent of the total project cost, and will be covered by the $18 million in federal funding.

The upgrades will bring the town into compliance with federal wastewater effluent requirements.

“A typical design-build arrangement would utilize a prime consultant to complete the detailed design, administer the contract, and complete all the contract administration services on behalf of the Town,” explained Quilty. “For this design-build project, the designer works directly for the builder, and there is no prime consultant acting in the best interest of the Town.”

The committee, said Quilty, recommended awarding R.V. Andersen Associates Ltd. the contract.

R.V. Andersen will oversee and manage the project from preliminary design through the construction phases and project closeout, performing many of the tasks that a prime consultant would normally do on behalf of the Town.

Councillor Glen Carew expressed hesitancy about awarding the contract.

“I’m certainly not an engineer, I don’t have any experience in engineering, but I know that this is a big project,” said Carew. “And your Worship, I’m conflicted and struggling about this one. It’s the most important financial vote I’ve been a part of in my short one year on council and it kickstarts a four-year journey of major infrastructure work. I don’t believe residents and taxpayers of the town truly understand the financial gravity of these projects, but they are necessary, very costly, and literally unseen by most residents.”
He noted the work is mandated, and the Town has been granted funding for it, but he worried about whether the $18 million will cover the entire cost — and what happens if the project goes overbudget.

He said he brought his concerns to Town staff.

“The funding is fixed, and does not cover any potential overrun,” said Carew. “And as we have seen over the last few months, there have been several instances of cost increases on various town projects for a number of reasons… So, a project of this size and scope could be very costly for residents and taxpayers.”

Carew said he was also conflicted over awarding the contract to R.V. Andersen instead of CBO Ltd., whose bid was some $550,000 cheaper.

“I literally still don’t know how I’ going to vote on this,” said Carew. “Because it’s a big deal. It’s the biggest vote I’ve been a part of so far.”

Councillor Larry Vaters said the project had garnered plenty of discussion at the committee level — including how the technical and financial scores are determined.

“The financial score is a fairly straightforward process,” said Vaters. “The lesser the amount, the higher the score.”

The technical score, Vaters went on to explain, is much more complex, and is comprised of how well the proposal is formatted, expertise and corporate background, a demonstration of experience in completed projects, demonstrations of availability of key team members, reference checks, understanding of project and scope, proposed work plan details and finally, a proposed delivery schedule.

“This is a significant project,” said Vaters. “Possibly the most expensive of this term of council. We need to ensure we get this right the first time. R.V. Andersen’s proposed work plan outlines what we had expected. They also proposed additional work based upon their experience with similar projects in the past. I’ve seen change orders for many projects in the last year, and I’m hoping this will reduce the need for change orders in the future, for this specific project.”

Councillor Patrick Martin added that he and Infrastructure and Engineering Committee members Quilty, and Vaters had discussed the matter in great detail with staff, and he felt confident with the recommendation to award the contract to R.V. Andersen.

“It makes total sense from everything that was explained to us,” said Martin, who noted the company has done several local projects in recent years, including a pumping replacement project in the Goulds, and that they have won several awards over the years. He said in one instance, the company was able to shave an entire year off a project’s estimated timeline, saving an Ontario town money in the process.

“I will be supporting the staff recommendation of R.V. Andersen because I think it’s the logical solution,” said Martin.

Councillor Elizabeth Laurie echoed Carew’s sentiment that the Town needs to do what is in the residents’ best financial interests, and also echoed Vater’s assessment that the project needs to be done right the first time.

“Going with the owner advisor, although we are paying upfront, I believe that with the expertise and high technical score, that we are actually going to end up saving money down the road, and for that reason, it’s a no-brainer for me,” said Laurie.

When finally put to a vote, the motion was approved, though not unanimously as Carew voted against it.

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