Construction of Fredericton's new justice building has been paused after the lone bid for the lion's share of the build was more than $30 million higher than what the New Brunswick government was ready to pay.
The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure cancelled the main tender for construction of the new courthouse on King Street after EllisDon, the only company to submit a bid, listed a price tag that was "substantially over budget."
"The closing price did not represent good value for the Province and so it was cancelled," department spokesperson Tyler McLean said in an email.
Shovels hit the ground in December 2021 to build a new $60 million justice building on King Street near the corner of Regent Street.
Site preparation was completed in May 2022, and the foundation work and steel framing were completed this past spring.
According to the province, "the largest contract" to complete the construction was supposed to see work continue this past spring.
But according to information on the government's online tenders portal, EllisDon submitted a bid of $93.27 million for that contract.
McLean said the cancellation of the tender means the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will "proceed in an alternate format" for the final phase.
"At this time, the Phase 2 contractor is beginning to demobilize from the site. There will be a short period of inactivity on the site until the Main Tender begins," he said.
The delay in the years-long project appears to be yet another setback in a plan to build a courthouse to replace the aging justice building on Queen Street and the one in nearby Burton.
The government under former premier Brian Gallant had planned to refurbish the Centennial Building on King Street and build a new courthouse attached to it, at a projected cost of $76 million.
The provincial government axed its plan to refurbish the Centennial Building in fall 2018 and later sold it. (John Leroux/ Supplied)
Construction got underway but was halted not long after, when Blaine Higgs became premier and axed it in late 2018.
The cancellation cost taxpayers $13 million for work that had already been done, but Bill Oliver, who was transportation minister at the time, said the province was saving approximately $60 million in construction costs.
Subcontractors left in lurch, says Opposition
With the cancellation of the main tender for the courthouse project, many subcontractors who bid as part of phase three have been left in an awkward situation, said Chuck Chiasson, Victoria-La Vallée MLA and Liberal opposition critic for the transportation and infrastructure.
Chuck Chiasson, MLA for Victoria-La Vallee and Liberal critic for transportation and infrastructure, says he's concerned about the subcontractors affected by the cancellation of the tender for the main phase of construction. (Facebook/Chuck Chiasson)
"It leaves them in the lurch because they actually have to start over, and that's what I'm trying to look into — is, is there a way that we can protect them because number one, they've put resources into preparing their bids," Chiasson said.
"They've gone out and costed and did everything that they need to do to prepare their bid and and they were the successful bidders, yet now they have to start all over again and they've lost their competitive advantage because everybody knows exactly what their bid was."
Chiasson said he expects the cancellation of the tender to delay the project by three to four months.
"They have to actually go out with another [request for proposals], and my understanding is that they'll be looking for a management firm instead of a general contractor."
The province did not say how long the delay would be.