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Costs escalate on rebuild of Argyle Secondary

North Vancouver school trustees have voted to set aside an additional $1.5 million in contingency funds to deal with escalating costs of construction on the rebuild of Argyle Secondary.
Argyle Secondary under construction

North Vancouver school trustees have voted to set aside an additional $1.5 million in contingency funds to deal with escalating costs of construction on the rebuild of Argyle Secondary.

That money is on top of an extra $4 million towards the rebuilds of Argyle and Handsworth secondary schools that trustees approved in the spring.

The ballooning construction costs are the result of everything from unexpected geotechnical issues, steel tariffs and even commute times for contractors driving from areas like Langley and Surrey to the North Shore.

The school district is also paying a premium to the contractor to ensure the project is completed on time, despite earlier delays.

Secretary-treasurer Georgia Allison told trustees at their September public board meeting that another $1.5 million is needed for contingency funds because most of the previous $4 million approved by the board has now been spent. The province has indicated it will not provide an additional round of extra funding, she added.

As an example of what’s driving the higher construction costs, Allison said most large concrete providers in the Lower Mainland won’t bid on the project because they “have at least one or two or three bridges to cross” and can’t guarantee their trucks will make it to the site within two hours. “After two hours the concrete isn’t accepted by the engineers,” she said. So the limited number of local bids has pushed concrete prices higher.

Most of the factors driving higher construction costs are “out of the control of the school district,” said Allison, and related to larger economic stressors.

When the Argyle rebuild was first announced by the then-Liberal government in June of 2016, the project was pegged at $49.2 million, with $37.65 million coming from the province and the school district chipping in $11.56 million from proceeds of the sale of school properties.

In the more than three years since then, however, costs have skyrocketed.

First, the start of the project was delayed and then none of the bids came in close to the budget target.

Last spring, the province approved an extra $12 million to deal with extra costs on the rebuild, now sitting at a price tag of $61 million.

But that came with a warning, Allison added, that “we were completely on the hook for any more.”

The school district is hoping students will be walking through the doors of the new Argyle school a year from now.

Schools superintendent Mark Pearmain said construction is moving quickly on the project, with much of the electrical work complete and drywall going up.

Tendering for the rebuild of Handsworth Secondary, currently sitting at a budget of $63 million, is scheduled for November, with construction set to start in January, said Pearmain.

The school district has also set aside more than $1 million for furniture and equipment for the new Argyle school.

Any of the $1.5-million contingency not used on the Argyle project will be transferred to the Handsworth rebuild, said Allison.

Approximately $23.7 million worth of seismic mitigation work has also begun on Mountainside Secondary, which will soon be visible on the outside of the building.

School trustees also voted to spend up to $500,000 on remedial work needed on buildings at the school district’s Cheakamus outdoor school site near Squamish.

The extra money for the projects is coming from the school district’s accumulated surplus.

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