Another brick not in the wall

Brian Jones
Published on June 6, 2014
When construction workers at Confederation Building took off the brick facade to replace windows, they found shoddy construction — especially around the top of the building — that added $4 million onto a project that has already ballooned over budget.— Submitted photo

Anyone who has been ripped off by a no-good contractor can sympathize, sort of, with the provincial government and its renovation woes at the Confederation Building.

Homeowners who have been given the runaround by a contractor — “We’ll be there next week to finish the job,” they told you a month ago — can take comfort, sort of, in the knowledge that none of the lies and ineptitude were their fault.

After all, if Joey Smallwood’s government could be ripped off by lazy, incompetent contractors, there’s not much chance a Newfoundland (or Labrador) livyer would experience anything different.

The ongoing renovations at Confederation Building have uncovered shoddy workmanship on Smallwood’s flagship phallic symbol. There is water leakage into the building, and rot. The estimated cost of replacing the windows has jumped to $56 million from $40 million.

Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath wins this week’s award for Most Expressive Euphemism with his statement that renovators have found “significant structural inappropriateness.”

In common language, some workers a half century ago apparently had the masonry skills of five-year-olds in a sandbox.

Imagine a scene from 1958. Workers are 200 feet up on scaffolding, applying bricks to the façade.

“There’s a big gap here,” says one.

“Just plug it,” says another.

A deputy minister described it this week as “very messy construction.” If even the provincial government can be susceptible to inept workmen, any hope that your contractor didn’t or won’t cut corners can pretty well be tossed out the window.

Of course, it is unfair to taint an entire industry because of a few leaks in political offices. But notice the strange silence of the builders’ association. At times like this, a wise approach is to shut up and hope nobody notices.

The trouble is, hundreds — perhaps thousands — of homeowners probably did notice. It’s not as if Joey was the first guy to have lousy caulking around his windows.

Rocky roads

“Messy construction” isn’t limited to buildings, unfortunately. Anyone who regularly uses the Outer Ring Road or the Prince Philip Parkway must marvel at the ruts that grab wheels as if they’re magnetized.

The Romans built roads that lasted centuries, but apparently Newfoundland (and Labrador) engineers are incapable of putting down pavement that won’t sink within a decade or two.

Some people have erroneously blamed the ruts on studded tires. This is illogical and false. If studded tires created them, the ruts would run the entire length of the pavement; i.e., where studded tires went, ruts would follow.

But the ruts appear only in certain sections of road.

The cause is not on the pavement, but below it. Roads, like buildings, need a good, solid foundation. Ruts appear when a section of road has a faulty foundation — or “structural inappropriateness,” as Nick McGrath might put it.

The people’s representatives have good cause to haul some road-builders into court for negligence, dereliction of duty, etc., but — as we have seen lately — the government has a bad habit of letting paving companies skip out on their obligations.

Name that price

Nalcor Energy is supposedly only three years away from throwing the switch at the spanking new Muskrat Falls hydroelectric plant.

And yet, at this late stage, the Crown agency can’t — or won’t — tell ratepayers how much their monthly power bills are estimated to rise when Muskrat’s juice begins to flow.

Nor can — or will — Nalcor tell the public how much its cost estimates for construction of the project have gone up.

Such secrecy is indefensible. But taxpayers can figure a few things out from experience. As with the renovations at the Confederation Building, and as with the construction of your back deck and/or additional room, building Muskrat Falls will cost considerably more than originally planned.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at