Mystery bridge

By David Broadland, October 2013

Another key player leaves the project.

Last month’s story here on how the design of the new Johnson Street Bridge is being simplified in a process that’s taking place beyond the public lens prompted the City of Victoria to hit the local airwaves. Director of Engineering Dwayne Kalynchuk told CFAX listeners that councillors were aware of changes to the design of the bridge’s superstructure. In fact, drawings obtained from the City through an FOI indicate that in mid-March, two months after councllors agreed to a fixed-price contract with bridge builder PCL Constructors Westcoast Ltd, the superstructure’s configuration included major elements that mimicked the complexity of the original referendum-approved design. By the end of May, new drawings showed that complexity had been eliminated.

Hardesty & Hanover drawing from March 15, 2013

The City’s fixed-price contract with PCL does allow certain aspects of the project to undergo a “value engineering” analysis in which the design can be changed and costs to the City reduced, but the configuration of major elements in the superstructure were not slated to be part of that process. A recent report to councillors on the project’s progress showed no reduction in costs due to the simplification.

That councillors were not given a clear picture of what they were agreeing to when they signed the contract with PCL was justified by what project managers said was an urgent need to keep on the schedule to meet the project’s 2016 funding deadline. There was no time, project leaders told councillors, to carefully consider all the details. Instead, councillors were asked to approve the PCL contract within hours of being shown its contents.

But that urgency now appears to have been an illusion. Although the City continues to say the project is “on-schedule,” comparing the latest schedule with a previous schedule indicates a slippage of nearly a year since March 2012. Back then, project engineers were saying cofferdams had to be completed during the 2012/2013 winter fisheries window if the project was going to meet its March 2016 funding deadline. But the project engineers now say construction of the cofferdam for the west side abutment will start “soon.” DFO’s summer fisheries window for in-water construction work closes October 1 and doesn’t open again until December 1. Even so, the project is still “on-schedule.”

So it appears there was no urgency after all; councillors could have been given months to carefully scrutinize what PCL was offering to build, and that deliberation could have included a public viewing of a physical model of PCL’s proposed bridge. Instead, the fundamental management strategy employed by project leaders from the beginning—forcing decisions based on the threat of losing funding—has resulted in no one really knowing what is going to be built.

The troubled project may have played a role in major career changes of some of its key players. Most recently, the City’s General Manager of Operations Peter Sparanese, project director when the PCL contract was signed, was terminated. On August 2, following announcement of a new organizational structure at City Hall, the City said Sparanese would become director of the City’s new “Project Management Office.” By September 3 he was gone. In documents obtained by Focus through an FOI request, Acting City Manager Jocelyn Jenkins informed Sparanese that “upon further consideration of the MAXIMUS Canada organizational review your position...is being eliminated and the City is terminating your employment, without cause, effective immediately.”

As part of the agreement Sparanese received “10 months of total compensation,” which Focus calculates to be worth approximately $183,000, plus “$3500 for career counselling, payable upon your presentation of receipts and for services received by you...”

David Broadland is the publisher of Focus

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Hardest & Hanover drawing March 15, 2013.jpg227.02 KB