The seniors' housing complex in Fort Good Hope. Photo: GNWT
More than two years after the territorial government held an opening ceremony at Fort Good Hope’s seniors’ centre, the building is finally move-in ready.
But documents obtained by Cabin Radio reveal that the centre’s story is still unfolding.
The nine-unit building was first conceived more than 10 years ago. The aim was to help seniors in Fort Good Hope age in place, one of the current NWT government’s stated priorities.
Housing NWT officially announced the structure’s opening in February 2021. But more than a year later, no one had moved in due to lingering issues with the build. While the units remained empty until earlier this month, seniors are now finally settling in to their new accommodation.
Rylund Johnson, the MLA for Yellowknife North, had been pressing territorial housing minister Paulie Chinna for an update on the seniors’ centre since 2021. He most recently asked for its new opening date in the legislature on May 31.
“Thank you to the member for this question,” said Chinna, smiling. “I know he’s been advocating, and he’s been asking the question over and over. And I just want a drum roll. I’m excited, I am happy to say the nineplex in Fort Good Hope, the seniors’ complex, will be open and people are moving in tomorrow.”
But as the applause in the chamber died down, Johnson’s questions continued.
“I am very happy to hear that, and I’m sure all of the people moving in tomorrow are even happier. Great news,” he said.
“I guess my question, in a bit more serious tone though, is that this has taken a couple of years. We still haven’t, on the public record, figured out exactly what happened.”
What took so long?
Just weeks after the territorial government cut a ribbon to celebrate the facility’s completion, the building failed an inspection by the fire marshal as its design did not meet the national building code.
In response to Johnson’s line of questions, Chinna appeared to assign at least part of the blame for the issue on the structure’s contractor.
“We do support local contractors,” she said. “We do support building capacity. And unfortunately, in this case, we did see some issues that we could have addressed earlier. We own it as Housing NWT.”
Chinna then revealed that the project is tied up in litigation.
The contractor that originally won the 2015 bid to complete the project was Tee Jay Contracting Inc, which in turn hired Canadian Quest Logistics and Guy Architects, documents obtained by Cabin Radio show.
According to a statement of claim filed by the GNWT on February 10, relationships between Tee Jay Contracting and its subcontractors deteriorated between 2016 and 2017, and both subcontractors eventually dropped out of the project.
The company’s owner, Wilfred McNeely Jr, declined to comment for this report.
By the spring of 2018, the seniors’ centre was two years behind schedule and Housing NWT removed Tee Jay from the job.
Housing NWT then hired Edmonton-based engineering consultant Becker and Yellowknife construction firm Energy Wall, hoping to complete the build and wrap the project up fairly quickly.
But that wasn’t what happened.
In 2020, the GNWT alleges Becker issued a report to Housing NWT confirming that the centre was “substantially complete.”
Accordingly, Housing NWT arranged for the grand opening, which was held on February 16. But just days later, Housing NWT said it received a letter from the Office of the Fire Marshal stating the fire marshal had yet to receive stamped drawings of the structure.
“Housing learned that Becker was not licensed as an architect in the Northwest Territories and therefore unable to satisfy the request for stamped drawings,” the legal claim states.
When the fire marshal inspected the building in March 2021, a cornucopia of code violations reportedly came to light.
Housing NWT alleges the building was found to have severe structural, electrical and mechanical issues, such as missing structural beams and improperly fastened shear walls.
“Most of the deficiencies were caused when the construction was in the hands of Becker and Energy Wall,” the claim reads.
Stantec and Northern Industrial Construction Inc were then hired to complete the project. According to Housing NWT, the structure even needed to be partially demolished to be made habitable.
Housing NWT is now suing both Becker and Energy Wall for damages, along with the cost of hiring Stantec as a replacement engineer and its legal costs. Both Becker and the owner of Energy Wall did not comment.
When the project originally went to tender in 2014, it was awarded for $3,554,407. In the legislature, Chinna confirmed that the final cost of the project was more than that.
“We owe it to the public to know what the final dollar figure was on this building,” said Johnson. “So can the minister actually say, at some point, what this cost us?”
“This number is not going to be $3.5 million,” said Chinna. “It’s going to increase, obviously. Those numbers and this situation is brought before the courts. Once a decision is made, I will be able to provide that information to the member.”
Despite the circuitous path to a finished seniors’ centre, the blown-out budgets, the delays, and the legal battle that is set to continue, the good news is that the seniors’ centre is finally housing vulnerable community members in Fort Good Hope.
“I’m really happy that it’s opened, that it’s finally complete,” said Edwin Erutse, president of the Yamoga Land Corporation, earlier this month. “Elders have moved over, and I’m planning to visit for the first time later today.”
Erutse explained that the additional nine units will have a ripple effect across the community, where many are in need of suitable housing.
“I’m sure Elders are happy to move over, and this opens up units for our community members that have been on waiting lists for housing,” said Erutse. “I’m happy it’s finally finished.”
Correction: June 30, 2023 – 18:44 MT. This article has been amended to correct the spelling of the name of Wilfred McNeely Jr, owner of Tee Jay Construction. We initially, incorrectly, gave his first name as William.