Up half the night to tell taxpayers what is painfully obvious – no steel girders on the pier construction site yet.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  July 26, 2012   Nothing yet – unless learning that a `tele-handler is on the site.  That’s it?  A tele-handler is a boom that zooms out and is used to offload material.  Problem with the Pier is that there isn’t anything to off load.

How come – and what’s the problem this time?  We were told that steel girders would be rolling into the city the week of the 23rd of July.

The large 40 x 10 foot steel plates arrived and went through several levels of testing.

This most recent round of testing – there are three levels of testing  done in each piece of steel as it goes through the fabrication process.  The problems with the girders being fabricated appears to be at the welding level.  The work gets past stages 1 and 2 but doesn`t make it past test / 3 – which means – it gets done again.

The current contractor isn’t the first company to have problems with steel not passing tests. Original contractor,  Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. has beams in his yard that he was ordered to take out by the city because they did not pass tests.  The city is doing much more rigorous testing and ensuring steel beams pass tests before they get to the construction site.

The city put out a press release with a date line of 2:01 am – that suggests someone was at a keyboard well past midnight crafting words that would give this mess the best possible look.  In the world of politics they call this the optics`.  There is a lot to be concerned about at the political level.  Many in Burlington want this problem solved – and there is no one who wants this done more than the senior levels of the city administration.  But they are, as General Manager Scott Stewart put it in an email to council members last night updating them, we are not going to let expediency get in the way of quality.  And quality appears to be taking time.

I should add here that Stewart doesn’t have Our Burlington on his email list – that information came to us from another source.

There are 39 steel girders that have to be cut from the steel plate and then bent and welded.  They get tested at the bending stage – three times – and then tested again at the welding stage – three times.

Getting the welds done right so that the pier holds up and lasts its 75 year life span is critical. Welding at this level is not all that easy.

When the welds testing is complete they move on to galvanization – which is a process of coating the steel in zinc.  There is little likelihood of problems at that level – but with this project – one never knows.

There is a lot of teeth grinding and many trips from Burlington to Kitchener by city staff.  Craig Stevens,  Project Manager Corporate Strategic Initiatives, was at the welding plant on Wednesday for a first-hand look at the problem.  Stevens and Stewart work hand in hand on this project and bring all the experience necessary to ensure there are no embarrassing mistakes made.  For these two professionals this project, which started before they became employees of the city, this is all very aggravating and embarrassing.

Foggy day and foggy view on just what is happening at the pier construction site.  Object on the right is not the pier, it is a trestle used to drive equipment along to complete the construction of the pier – which isn’t going to happen this month. Completion in 2013 is the target – let’s hope the weather cooperates.

While it is a city project it is really in the hands of the general contractor who has sent the work out to different sub-contractors.  Graham Infrastructure, whose head office is in Calgary, is the general contractor.  The city has insisted on being in close to daily contact with the president of Graham Infrastructure who recently met with city staff to review and see what could be done to the construction time line.

The city learned a month or so ago that weather could create problems with the pouring of the cement – that kind of work cannot be done if the weather is very cold.

Weather is now another very real concern.  There was nothing of note done in June; we have now lost all of July and there is no date set for the delivery of the steel girders.  And the city is not going to give out any dates other than to say – sometime in August – which is a smart move on their part.  The public just doesn`t believe what comes out of city hall because they have been misled so often in the past.  It was only at  very recent meeting of Council that the Mayor finally moved from his Sound of Music official opening date.  Senior staff are saying it will open when it opens and they want to be left alone to manage the project and make sure that no one cuts corners or looks for a fast way to get something done.

For those of us who live in Burlington and hear news reports of chunks of concrete falling onto the roadway underneath the Gardiner Expressway we can take some satisfaction that the pier is being built with a minimum life span of 75 years.  The Gardiner isn’t fifty years old and it’s falling apart.

The Pier will get built, there will be little hiccups and maybe even more delays but when that ribbon is cut and the deck is open to the public there will be immense civic pride and the Mayor will wear a smile that stretches from ear to ear – assuming of course that he is in office when the pier does open.

The city is now talking of a late fall 2013 opening date – next municipal election is December 2014.  That kind of calendar would cause anyone to look at the possible election scenarios.

In their press release the city, in its all is well language said: “Construction work continues on the Brant Street Pier while awaiting the arrival of main steel girders that are undergoing quality testing to ensure they meet specifications.”

There are several steps to producing the steel girders, which pass through three levels of quality testing. The steel plate used to produce the 39 main steel girders needed for the pier project has passed quality testing, however, the first four main steel girders did not meet rigid quality control when tested after welding. Seven more steel girders have now been made and are being tested.

“This is the only responsible way to manage this project,” said City Manager Jeff Fielding. “Time is important, but it is not as critical as the quality of the steel.”

“The city is working closely with its contractor, Graham Infrastructure, and other members of the project team to ensure the steel quality meets the city’s stringent specifications through the fabrication and welding processes. The main steel girders that were to be delivered this week will be delivered and installed in August.”

“Work is progressing on the Brant Street Pier. Construction continues on the ramp leading to the sandy beach beside the pier. A piece of equipment called a tele-handler, or zoom boom, is on site this week to help install a temporary steel platform to assist in the construction of the pier node.”

“It is important that the pier management team communicates updates in a timely way,” said Scott Stewart, General Manager of Development and Infrastructure. “We will continue to keep the community posted and share the good news once the steel girders are ready for installation.”

The city does have to be given credit for being much more transparent that it was under both the former city manager and the former Mayor.  That is a plus and the taxpayers should respect and appreciate this new approach to keeping them informed.

Much of city council is away on vacation.  Councillors Craven and Meed Ward are out of the country.  The Mayor is due to head to Newfoundland for a vacation.  Councillor Dennison is around, Sharman is believed to

With no steel to work with construction workers do the small jobs that would normally get done at the end of the project. The pathway that leads to a beach that was formed on the western side of the pier wasn’t even part of the original plan. No one knew the beach would get formed the way it did..

be at his cottage.  Taylor and Lancaster are unaccounted for but just look for Taylor’s dog and John will be close by.

The City Manager has a firm grip on the process and is well backed by Scott Stewart who is backed up by Craig Stevens.

Now if we can get the welders to produce welds that pass the tests – we will see flat bed trucks wheeling into town with four or five beams on each load.  That’s going to mean more than eight trucks.  The city might want to have the Burlington Teen Tour Band on hand to welcome the caravan.

Stay tuned – there will certainly be more on this story.

HSS continues to operate his construction company while dealing with the legal problems that came out of his decision to walk away from the project and turn the keys for the construction site over to the city.

On the legal front, the city is now in the discovery stage of those proceedings – we get to look at their documents and they get to look at what the city has. Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd., (HSS) is understood to be using some pretty tough legal counsel to defend himself against the law suit the city filed seeking damages in the millions.  Many thought, maybe even hoped, that HSS would declare bankruptcy and that would solve the problem.  Those who harboured those thoughts didn’t understand Henry SS.

While senior city hall staff struggle with the problem welders are having, the people over at the Simms building where the legal people do their thing, get daily updates from the outside counsel the city has hired.  One can imagine the frustration the construction people are going through – it is nothing compared to what the legal people are agonizing over.

Think of the possibilities here.  The Pier doesn’t open until sometime late in the Spring of 2014 and the legal people realize they didn’t have the case they thought they had and they settle out of court.  Imagine that happening.  There are a number of people doing just that – and trying to figure out how best to approach such a situation.


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