After the City of Fort St. John bought the Condill Hotel in 2017, it embarked on an ambitious turnaround plan to have the 75-year-old historic yet derelict building demolished by the end of the year — part of plan of to sell the resulting three lots and titles for redevelopment as part of downtown revitalization.
Councillors learned in January the cost of buying and tearing down the hotel has increased from $1.5 million to upwards of $2.2 million — an increase driven by large amounts of newly discovered contamination in the building, and an increase councillors held off approving until they received legal advice.
As Coun. Larry Evans remarked at a Jan. 22 council meeting, “Something has gone sideways."
Here's what we know about the timeline of the sale and demolition, based on previous media reports, tender documents, council documents, and email correspondence with city officials.
May 8, 2017 - City council begins a series of four closed door meetings about purchasing the Condill Hotel, built in 1942 to house American soldiers during Alaska Highway construction. The city holds a second closed meeting May 23.
June 26 - Coun. Trevor Bolin, the listing agent for Condill owners Leo and Elaine Budnick, tells Energetic City news the building has not been sold and is still open for business despite social media rumours. The hotel, listed for $1.45 million, has interested buyers from both B.C. and Alberta, Bolin says. “I’m sure the timing of the Condill’s 75th birthday along with the anniversary of the Alaska Highway has made for extra exposure on this icon,” he says.
July 10 - Council has a third closed door meeting about the purchase.
July 24 - Council has a fourth closed door meeting about the purchase, where it approves buying the hotel for $870,000. The city and Bolin have confirmed he declared a conflict and recused himself from all closed meetings.
July 27 - The city sends an embargoed press release about the purchase to media in Northern B.C. The release is embargoed until 11 a.m. July 28, however, the city briefly recalls the release, stating it was not allowed to release information about the sale “without the express permission of the vendor until the sale is complete … we should have waited until it was completely final on September 15th,” a spokesperson writes in an email. The call back of the release was prompted after the media made calls to the Condill owners requesting comment ahead of the embargo being lifted.
July 28 - The news release about the purchase goes public as planned after the city receives permission from the Condill. The city says it bought the hotel with plans to demolish it and sell the resulting three lots for redevelopment as part of the downtown revitalization plan. Bolin says half of his $30,000 listing commission will go to support a local group chosen by residents.
Aug. 2 and 3 - West Edge Engineering Ltd. of Kamloops, on behalf of the city, retains ACM Environmental Corporation of Vancouver to conduct a pre-demolition hazardous materials survey of the hotel. ACM notes the building was still occupied and in use at the time of the survey, and that it inspected just four rooms each on the second and third floors. “The remaining rooms not inspected at this time will require further inspection and/or sampling, prior to the demolition of the building taking place,” it notes in its report.
Seventy-five representative samples of materials suspected of containing asbestos are collected. Results confirm asbestos to be found in different insulation materials, ceiling plaster, drywall taping compounds, and both linoleum and vinyl flooring.
“It must be noted that there is a possibility of asbestos and/or lead containing materials existing within wall and ceiling cavities, and under sub-floors, as not all areas could be completely accessed during the inspections," ACM’s Aug. 28 report reads.
"Possible asbestos-containing materials which may exist in these areas may include, but are not limited to, insulation materials (mechanical or construction), secondary layers of drywall or flooring, etc. Possible lead- containing materials which may exist in these areas may include, but are not limited to, paint, electrical wire casings, cast iron piping spigots, etc.”
Sept. 12 - The city issues a request for quotations, through West Edge, for the hazardous materials cleanup of the hotel and its demolition. “Work is expected to begin as soon as possible after that date and be completed no later than December 15, 2017,” it says.
Sept. 13 - The city issues its first addendum to the tender, changing the closing date for bids from Oct. 5 to Oct. 4.
Sept. 15 - The city’s possession date is pushed to Sept. 29.
Sept. 25 - The city issues a second addendum, this time releasing all known plans of the hotel in response to a question on the tender. “Only a few original plans exist. There have definitely been some changes over the years,” it says. “They are to be used strictly at the bidder’s own risk.”
Sept. 29 - The city takes possession of the hotel.
Oct. 2 - In a third addendum, the city says it has yet to receive a revised hazmat assessment in response to a query. “We have not received the report, in our opinion, to provide enough time for the proponents to review,” it says. “Any significant items will be discussed with the successful bidder after the contract has been awarded.” The addendum further notes that soil testing has not been done on the site, and though no contamination is anticipated, “if required, this will be a change order.”
Oct. 3 - In a fourth and final addendum, the city releases a revised hazmat assessment and extends the closing for bids by 24 hours, back to Oct. 5.
ACM’s revised report, dated Oct. 2, states a follow-up survey was conducted Sept. 21. “At this time, all remaining hotel rooms within the building, which were not accessed during the preliminary survey, were inspected and/or sampled,” ACM reports, adding 115 samples of material thought to contain asbestos are collected during both surveys.
The report estimates 7,500 square feet of asbestos containing drywall compounds; 6,000 square feet of textured ceiling plaster; 2,000 square feet of ceiling/wall texture on drywall; 240 lineal feet of mechanical insulation; up to 200 square feet of vermiculite insulation; and 250 square feet of linoleum and vinyl flooring.
The same caveats found in ACM’s initial report about asbestos materials and the areas of the hotel it could not access are reiterated.
“These amounts are approximations only and are not to be relied upon for the purposes of preparing a demolition quote for the building,” ACM writes.
Oct. 5 - Closing results include bids from Pacific Blasting & Demolition (Vancouver/Edmonton) for $646,949; NAPP Enterprises Ltd. (Prince George) for $457,480; and S Young Enterprises Ltd. (Fort St. John) for $979,714. A fourth bid from Dakota Reclamators Ltd. (Calgary) was received 18 minutes late and returned unopened, according to a council report.
Oct. 10 - Council awards the $457,480 contract to NAPP Enterprises based on the advice of West Edge, which cited it as the lowest bid and a contractor that has "extensive past experience" with the city. West Edge calls for a minimum contingency of 10 per cent, and council approves a total budget for the purchase and demolition of the Condill at $1.5 million.
Dec. 15 - The Condill still stands past the city's demolition deadline.
Jan. 22, 2018 - A city report recommends council approve an increase to the Condill budget to $2.15 million. The report notes three scope changes worth a combined $186,884 were already approved using the project's contingency. A fourth scope change comprised of six separate change orders worth $636,827 is included in the report.
That includes an extra $273,699 to remove 19,175 square feet of asbestos containing plaster from the main and first floors, and an extra $175,201 to remove 8,060 square feet of five layers of flooring from the main floor, among other charges.
Barry Barnes, president of NAPP, says the increase is substantial, and that abating the hotel was like peeling back the layers of an onion, with up to 16 layers of extra flooring found in some places, and amounts of plaster containing asbestos up to three times than expected.
City staff liken the hotel to a jigsaw puzzle, and say the bids it received for the project were based off the assessments that were completed. “Once the work is awarded, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Wally Ferris, the city’s general manager of community services.
Council requests staff to obtain legal advice on the hazardous material assessments done for the hotel.
Feb. 19 - City councillors defer a vote on whether to approve a budget increase. A rare special open meeting had been called, but council wanted to first discuss the legal advice it received in a closed meeting.
However, it was unable to waive council procedure and go into a closed session without notice due to the absence of Coun. Gord Klassen, who was en route to a meeting in Fort Nelson and absent from the meeting. Council is allowed to waive process, but only if it has the unanimous consent of all members. Klassen could not be reached to give his consent.
Feb. 26 - Council votes to continue demolition of the Condill Hotel with NAPP Enterprises, following a closed door meeting about its legal advice. But it also stopped short of approving a budget increase for the work pending further negotiations with the company to determine completion costs a remobilization schedule.
The city's best estimate of the total project cost is now pegged at $2.2 million. NAPP had a fourth, third-party hazmat assessment completed in January to provide cost assurances and the amount of contaminants present, the city says.
Acting City Manager David Joy says releasing NAPP from its contract and retendering the rest of the demolition would have cost the city at least half a million dollars or more. Those costs would have included new hazmat assessments costs, consultant fees for the new tendering process, site security, as well as legal fees and legal claims for lost profits.
May 17 - NAPP completes the abatement of contaminated materials and begins tearing down the hotel structure. The tear down is expected to last a month. Moira Green, the city's director of strategic services, says no new change orders for the project have been received. An interim and final report about the demolition will be provided to council, Green says.