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More delays for 24-unit affordable housing project

County in search of new contractor.
After several months with no progress, workmen moved in this week to waterproof a foundation for Maxwell Park Place. A backhoe can be seen on the left, working Monday on the site that is in front of an existing affordable housing project visible in the background.

Lambton County has severed ties with the contractor hired to build a 24-unit affordable housing project on London Road and is looking for a new contractor to take over the beleaguered construction job.

Concerns about future litigation between the county and BECC Construction precludes Lambton officials from sharing the details, assistant county solicitor Ryan Beauchamp wrote in an email to The Journal.

“However, it is the county’s view that BECC Construction Inc. has not met the terms and conditions of its agreement with the county.  The county has determined that proceeding with a new contractor is the most diligent step forward,” Beauchamp wrote.

The Journal requested comment from BECC Construction but did not receive an immediate response.

In July 2021, the Hamilton region construction company was awarded the contract to build 24 modular homes on county property between Maxwell Street and London Road, adjacent to a 57-unit affordable housing project the county built in 2011. 

The contract called for the new building to be built, supplied and installed by 2022 at a cost of $6.1 million.

County officials have said they hoped to fast-track the three-storey building by using an approach to construction where units are manufactured off-site in numerous modules and assembled on a foundation. 

The modules were built in the Toronto area by BECC and are being stored in a Sarnia warehouse.

But construction work on the site has been delayed numerous times due to a list of problems including poor weather, contaminants in the soil, design work that needed to be redone and approved, labour shortages, and underground utilities that weren’t correctly charted.

More than two years after ground was broken, only the foundations are on-site.

Four months ago, Lambton County Warden Kevin Marriott said the challenges had been overcome and – although delayed and over budget– work was moving ahead.

In January, a staff report to council optimistically indicated the apartments would be ready for occupancy by the end of 2024 at the latest.

Now construction is suspended until a new contractor is found. No one has an opinion about when Maxwell Park Place may be complete.

“It’s very frustrating to say the least,” said Marriott.  “Apparently, we aren’t the only ones having trouble with BECC.  There are at least two other projects in Ontario that they have reneged on,” he wrote in a statement to The Journal.

“Because of litigation, I can’t give details but (I’m) sure that will eventually all come out.

“In short, they just have not lived up to what was signed in the contract,” he said.

“The county has taken steps to take over the site and is looking at resuming construction work through another contractor,” wrote Beauchamp.

Meanwhile, crews are onsite this week to do mitigation work such as completion of the foundation waterproofing and backfill.

“At this time, we do not have an updated timeline for the completion of the project, but our team continues to work diligently to advance the project forward,” said Beauchamp’s email.

All this, while the need for affordable housing is escalating in Sarnia-Lambton and the region’s homelessness problem balloons.

Lambton County, which is the level of government responsible for social housing, estimates that about 2,500 new affordable housing units are needed.

The county’s housing and homelessness plan calls for 75 new affordable housing units to be built by 2024 with the assistance of government funding.

While Maxwell Park Place project and several others like it have hit delays, there was some brighter news this week.

Lambton County announced that it has a conditional deal to purchase St. Bartholomew’s Church property on Cathcart Boulevard and intends to build affordable housing there.

Details of the transaction and its timing were not released.

Meanwhile, the downtown Victoria Street parking lot also continues to be  under consideration for affordable housing – and possibly supportive housing for the hardest to house.

City council voted in favour of transferring ownership of the parking lot to the county about a year ago. 

In May, city council declared the entire parking lot surplus and directed staff to donate it to Lambton County for affordable housing.

City council also stipulated that part of the lot would still be designated for public parking.

The parking lot, and how much parking should be retained, was discussed again at last week’s county council meeting and Mayor Mike Bradley expressed his frustration at how slowly negotiations are moving.

“We offered this parking lot a year ago,” he said, “and these issues should have been resolved by now between the two staffs…”

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