‘Some very messy construction’

Confederation Building repair budget balloons based on shoddy Smallwood-era work

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on June 3, 2014

Cory Grandy has a video of water pouring out of the walls of Confederation Building — and it wasn’t even shot on a rainy day.

“No, no, no, this has nothing to do with rain,” says Grandy, assistant deputy minister in the Department of Transportation and Works. “This is water trapped in the walls.”

The video is one example of the major problems that construction workers have found during the ongoing saga of the Confederation Building window replacement project.

Last week, Transportation Minister Nick McGrath acknowledged that the cost to replace the windows on Confederation Building has gone up again — to $56 million.

Explaining the added costs, McGrath said they found some “significant structural inappropriateness” during the course of window replacement.

What he means is they found red bricks jammed into cinder block walls, and structural blocks that had big gaps in between them when they should have been flush against each other.

Grandy said it’s not a case of bad building codes from back in the 1950s when Confederation Building was built.

“I’m not an expert on 1958 codes, but in answer to your question, no, this would not have been an acceptable industry standard even in 1958,” he said.

“This is not really about codes. This is about some very messy construction practices,” Grandy said.

The worst of it is all along the very top of Confederation Building, up around the green metal roof.

Grandy said it’s just a guess, but looks like something happened towards the end of the construction project.

“It gave the appearance of a project where they were either running out of time or running out of money or running out of materials,” he said. “And they started sweeping up off the floors all the materials they thought they could use and stuck ‘em into a wall. It was quite unusual.”

Originally the cost to replace the windows on Confederation Building was supposed to be around $40 million. The costs have been steadily climbing over the years since the work started, though.

First, it was the limestone around the window; bureaucrats estimated they could salvage and re-use 99 per cent of it. Then they found that it had been so badly damaged that it all needed to be replaced.

Then there was the water, which caused its own damage.

“The freeze-thaw cycles that we talk about in potholes and how that has an impact in pavement? Well, it also has an impact in a building system if you’ve got water trapped inside,” Grandy said.

It’s not that the building was unsafe, he said. The worst of the structural problems were right up at the top — the last part of the building that would have been completed.

“At 200 feet above ground level on a prominent hill in the City of St. John’s on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, this building is subject to some significant wind,” he said. “It hasn’t fallen over yet.”

But at the same time, Grandy said that it would’ve been irresponsible to just cover all those problems back up once they were found.

At this point, he said, it’s not even really a window-replacement project anymore. Workers are replacing sections of the roof, and shoring up the whole building envelope. It’s something that needed to be done eventually, and when they found the awful state of things behind the brick facade, they decided now was the time to do it.

And work is still going to be going on at Confederation Building for a while to come.

Grandy said the scaffolding and the white covering will hopefully come down off the building later this year, but they’ve already started on the electrical and mechanical systems at the top of the central tower.

All those heating, plumbing, ventilation and electrical systems need to be overhauled, and that’s likely to be a multi-year project down the road covering various parts of the building.