Tank: Remai Modern casts costly shadow over Saskatoon’s new library

The Saskatoon Art Gallery was completed late and over budget, and the new central library project continues despite rising construction costs.

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Saskatoon’s Remai Modern Art Gallery has marked four years since opening last month, but the final price of the taxpayer-funded megaproject remains a mystery.

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We know it could cost more than the last estimate from four years ago. It seems possible and even probable that we can reach the fifth anniversary of the project without a final cost to the project of over $ 100 million.

City council last heard in November 2017 that the project was about $ 4 million over budget that had allocated $ 84.6 million for the gallery building and $ 19.5 million for the parking lot. located below.

The final price could be affected by litigation, in particular legal action by the contractor who constructed the building, EllisDon, and the architect who designed it, Bruce Kuwabara of KPMB Architects.

We only know that EllisDon and Kuwabara are asking for more money because that’s what the city told the Privacy Commissioner in response to a Freedom of Information request from The StarPhoenix.

The city hall’s response suggested that the cost of the gallery could increase further depending on the results of these lawsuits. Yet a search of court records revealed no indication of any lawsuits by EllisDon or Kuwabara against the city over Remai Modern.

The town hall is committed to revealing the cost of the project once the dispute is closed.

In the meantime, the city could provide an update with an estimated range of the final cost. But going the extra mile in the interests of transparency and accountability goes against the style of this municipal government.

Perhaps the taxpayer-funded bureaucracy could consider that the price of the new art gallery has already nearly doubled – although the last update is now four years old – since it was first approved. times by the gallery board 12 years ago.

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At the time, the controversial project was budgeted at $ 58 million and was due to open three years earlier than it did. That original price tag included the parking lot that the city is now trying to describe as a separate project to make the cost appear lower.

The increase in costs has been attributed to a surge in construction prices, especially concrete, during the construction period.

Remai Modern’s experience remains relevant as another contentious project continues against a backdrop of rising construction costs.

The plan for a new central library has become as controversial as the Remai Modern, although few seem to object to the need for a new downtown facility to replace the old Frances Morrison central library. Many opposed Remai Modern because it meant abandoning the history and legacy of the Mendel Art Gallery.

The budget for the new library annoys people the most about it: $ 134 million, including $ 73.3 million for the construction of its new home on North Second Avenue between 24th and 25th Streets.

The library became the main topic of debate in last year’s municipal election, even though it had already been approved and is not really a Saskatoon City Hall project, though. that the city council had to approve the loan.

The city council approved the loan in 2019 with a 6 to 5 vote which reflected the community’s division on the project.

The construction cost of $ 73.3 million comes from a failure that occurred in the fall of 2020. Since then, construction costs have skyrocketed in Canada and around the world.

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Non-residential construction costs in Canada rose 3.9% in the second quarter of this year, the largest such increase in 13 years, according to Statistics Canada.

The cost of building a new central library in Ottawa has fallen from $ 192.9 million before the pandemic to $ 334.16 million due to rising costs of building materials. Ottawa city council voted to pay an additional $ 64 million for the so-called “super library” last month.

The federal government has also agreed to increase its commitment, since there is a national component to the Ottawa project.

Conversely, Saskatoon’s new central library will be funded exclusively by city taxpayers, through property tax increases approved by the library board.

It seems unrealistic to think that Saskatoon’s new library can somehow escape the market forces that have inflated the costs of the Ottawa library.

And no one wants to question the real cost of the new library four years after it opened.

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