2017 preview: ‘Fierce competitors’ PCL & EllisDon team up on Centre Block

Centre Block has loomed large over Ottawa’s economy for more than a century, symbolizing the outsized role the federal government plays in the local business community.

The popular tourist attraction will take on added importance to the local construction industry in 2017 as preliminary work starts on what the federal government says will be the largest heritage rehabilitation project of its kind in Canada.

It’s expected to take a decade to fully restore and modernize the building, addressing a long list of deficiencies that includes crumbling mortar, aging water pipes and outdated mechanical, electrical and safety systems.

While work won’t begin in earnest until next year, much of the groundwork will be laid in 2017 as contracts are negotiated and enabling work – such as relocating underground sewer and water lines as well as building a temporary loading dock – begins.

In addition to being unprecedented in its scope and complexity, the project has already broken new ground in the construction business.

The federal government prequalified only one entity to bid on the main project and received a single bid for the main construction contract: A joint venture of EllisDon and PCL, the two largest general contractors in both Ottawa and across Canada.

EllisDon CEO Geoff Smith told OBJ this project marks the first time the rival firms have ever teamed up for a project.

“We’re fierce competitors. And we remain fierce competitors,” he said. “But (this) one made some sense.”

Mr. Smith said the Centre Block rehabilitation project is too large for any one company to take on itself, leading EllisDon and other construction firms to look for joint-venture partners.

For PCL’s part, Kevin Skinner – the company’s vice-president and district manager – said the firm is “excited” to work with EllisDon and “appreciates the opportunity” to work with the federal government on the Centre Block project.

Federal officials said they had been hoping to prequalify three firms to submit bids with an evaluation criteria that was “very open,” but only received the joint EllisDon-PCL submission.

However, a spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada, Pierre-Alain Bujold,  noted that the firms are “two very large and reputable construction companies” and that the department “is confident they have both the competency and the capacity” to manage the project.

The joint venture must meet all technical and financial criteria, Mr. Bujold said, adding that the construction management job may be re-tendered if the government is unable to negotiate a “fair and reasonable contract.”

Mr. Bujold declined to give a timeline for negotiating a deal or provide an estimate on its expected value.


SIDEBAR: What’s wrong with Centre Block, anyway?

Quite a few things, according to the federal government.

Centre Block has not received a major upgrade since it was rebuilt following a fire that destroyed the previous building in 1916.

A century later, the structural steel is rusting and is at risk of losing its integrity. Major building systems are approaching failure, while embedded electrical and mechanical systems have been stretched beyond their useful lifecycle and cannot be accessed or serviced while Centre Block is in use.

Leaking roofs, walls, windows and plumbing are damaging historical interiors, while mechanical failures – such as broken elevators – are affecting parliamentary business and tourist visits.

Additionally, the building does not meet current seismic construction standards.

During work on Centre Block, the newly built West Block courtyard will become the interim home of the House of Commons Chamber while the Government Conference Centre will serve as the interim Senate Chamber.

Source: Public Services and Procurement Canada

SIDEBAR 2: Who’s already involved?

- A real property management services contract, valued at $566,469, was awarded in March 2016 to Mobile Resources Group for pre-planning services;

- A $4.72-million consulting contract to implement and monitor a purpose-built project delivery model, combining the principles of lean design and construction, was awarded to the ReAlignment Group on Nov. 30, 2016;

Carleton University received a $1.76-million contract in September 2015 to develop a building information model for Centre Block, advance the research and understanding of the structure and heritage elements of the building as well as develop training for applying digital technologies to heritage conservation.

A request for proposals for project management support services closed on Dec. 1, 2016. A contract is expected to be awarded later this year.

A request for proposals for cost, time and risk management services will close early this year.

Three consortiums qualified to bid on an architectural and engineering services contract. They are:

- Centre Block Architects and Engineers, consisting of DIALOG Architecture Engineer Interior Design Planning Inc., NORR Ltd. and RTKL Joint Venture;

- Centrus, consisting of Architecture49, WSP, HOK and Parsons Brinckerhoff; and

- Semper Paratus Group, consisting of Arup Canada, Fournier Gersovitz Moss Drolet Associés Architectes and Perkins+Will Canada.