Company calls foul after tender paused for Ottawa police campus

·3 min read
The Ottawa Police Services Board agreed on Monday to pause the tendering process for the first phase of construction of a new police campus in south Ottawa. (Olivier Plante/CBC - image credit)
The Ottawa Police Services Board agreed on Monday to pause the tendering process for the first phase of construction of a new police campus in south Ottawa. (Olivier Plante/CBC - image credit)

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) voted unanimously Monday to cancel a tender for the construction of a planned police campus in south Ottawa, even as a local construction company questioned the fairness of the procurement process.

Chief Peter Sloly requested a pause to the tendering process for the Ottawa Police South Campus — a $118 million project to build a new station on a 15.5-acre site located at 3505 Prince of Wales Drive, near Carleton Lodge.

Sloly cited rising construction costs, provincial legislation requiring police services to incorporate community safety and well-being into planning, ongoing reflections prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and "other, larger social and societal changes" as reasons for the pause.

"The pause is to allow ourselves and our community partners ... to make sure that we've got the right design for a building that should serve the city in excess of a quarter century," Sloly said at a press conference before the board meeting Monday.

According to a staff report, a tender was released in December 2020 to three pre-qualified bidders for the first phase of construction. The Ottawa police website says the new building will house frontline operations teams, a canine unit, a tactical unit, a marine dive and trail unit, a community relations team and a collision reporting centre.

The city received bids from general contracting companies PCL and Pomerleau that complied with the tender requirements, the report said.

A screenshot of the site of the Ottawa Police South Campus.
A screenshot of the site of the Ottawa Police South Campus.(Ottawa Police Service)

Bids over budget

But Deputy Chief Steve Bell told the board the bids included quotes that were above the project's budget.

"When we went to tender we saw that there was escalating prices above what we had originally budgeted for," Bell said.

Monday's decision means the city will cancel the current tender and release a new one later in the year or early next year, following community consultations that could lead to a possible redesign.

Deputy police Chief Steve Bell says the service will consult with city agencies and social service organizations about possibly locating some of their services in the new police building.
Deputy police Chief Steve Bell says the service will consult with city agencies and social service organizations about possibly locating some of their services in the new police building.(Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Bell said the pause will give the force time to rethink how it can partner with city agencies and social service organizations about possibly embedding these services into the building — a measure that could reduce the cost to the police service by spreading it among multiple agencies, potentially including the City of Ottawa.

"There is the opportunity for different revenue streams that we're looking to bring in to offset some costing," said Bell.

Construction company questions process

The decision to pause the tendering process prompted one local construction company that was set to work on the project to lash out.

Kathleen Grimes, president of Nepean-based Site Preparation Limited, sent a strongly-worded five-page letter to the city's procurement department calling into question the fairness of the process.

As a subcontractor for PCL, Site Preparation Limited was set to provide construction services to PCL if it emerged as the successful bidder.

In the letter, Grimes complained that the police service engaged PCL and its subcontractors in a six-week "value-engineering" negotiation to reduce the cost of the project by more than $5 million, only to suddenly cancel the tender.

"[This] is not only unfair, but would also lead one to possibly conclude that the whole process was simply initiated to facilitate a form of bid shopping and/or to obtain value-engineering at no cost," the letter states.

Grimes, who spoke to the board before the vote, said she hopes the police service doesn't incorporate the results of the free value-engineering work when it reissues a tender for the project.

Will McDonald, the city's chief procurement officer, said the entire procurement process has been conducted in accordance with all relevant legal requirements, including the city's procurement bylaw.

Police officials are expected to return to the board with an updated plan for the project within six months.