UNB pays $160K to fix porch on president’s mansion

CBC News has obtained documents showing the University of New Brunswick spent $160,000 to upgrade the porches and water pipes at the official residence of its president.

Somerville House also underwent water and sewer upgrades, documents show

The University of New Brunswick spent $160,000 this summer to repair two porches and upgrade the water pipes heading into the president’s mansion on Fredericton’s historic Waterloo Row.

Somerville House was built on Waterloo Row in 1816 and has been the residence of Lord Beaverbrook, previous lieutenant governors and other prominent Fredericton residents.

The 196-year-old estate has been showing its age for many years and the university’s Facilities Management staff had put the building on its radar for repairs.

The upper and lower porches, which can be seen from Waterloo Row and overlook the St. John River, were of particular concerns to the university’s staff.

Documents obtained by CBC News through the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act show the university spent $160,401.52 on the renovation project this summer.

An invoice dated July 4, 2012, broke down the funds in three main categories. The construction costs accounted for $133,444.05, followed by $11,110.77 for funds paid to the university’s Facilities Management department and $1,846.70 for consulting fees.

Somerville House is the official residence of the president of the University of New Brunswick.

As well, $5,000 was spent to "remove and reinstate landscape," $1,000 was earmarked for an electrical panel and $8,000 was set aside for "site" costs.

Greg Carriere, a university spokesman, said the overall price tag for the porches may seem high, but it is in line with upgrades to historically and architecturally significant buildings, such as Somerville House.

"Anyone who understands a heritage property will understand this. There are some things that need to be done when it's a heritage property to meet standards and codes," Carriere said.

His assurances were not being embraced by one student leader.

Andrew Martel, the president of the University of New Brunswick Student Union, said the cost of the pricey porch will anger many cash-strapped students.

"This money should be used for something to better the university, because I frankly don't believe the deck was something that would make or break this university," Martel said.

Somerville House is currently assessed at $942,500.

John Leroux, an architectural historian in Fredericton, said renovations on heritage buildings are very expensive. The level of craftsmanship needed on a project, such as Somerville House, will drive up the cost.

"In the relative scope of the budget of UNB ... this I pretty much a drop in the bucket and it needs to be done. If they didn’t spend the money now, in five years the cost would be far, far greater," Leroux said.

Eddy Campbell moved into Somerville House when it became the official residence of the president of UNB. (University of New Brunswick)

"This is a really significant New Brunswick house, it is the president’s official residence, it is one of the most visible houses on Waterloo Row and it should be restored."

After inspecting the house, the university’s maintenance staff determined that postponing the repairs would have driven up the eventual cost.

An internal memo from Nov. 3, 2011, said the university was setting aside $125,000 for the upgrades as officials waited for the results of the public tender.

"As we discussed this work is considered to be the highest priority from a capital renewal perspective," the memo stated.

A Feb. 8 email from an unnamed person in the university’s Facilities Management office indicated the deteriorating condition of the house meant Eddy Campbell had some unwanted company in the historic house.

"We are back on the roof of the today chasing squirrels and ice buildup. The squirrels just never give up from trying to get back in as [name withheld] informs us that they are active in the attic at night. They are chewing at the trim work, which is soft from decay over time and then getting in at various places," the unnamed university official said.

"My thoughts, for whatever they are worth, is that we really need to do major roof repairs on all of the roofs first."

The university removed names from email correspondence, citing privacy concerns.

President’s perk

While Somerville House only became the official residence of UNB’s president in recent years, the mansion’s ties with the university can be traced back to 1845.

Charles Fisher, its owner at the time and a father of Confederation, named the house in honour of James Somerville, UNB’s first president.

The University of New Brunswick has a long tradition of providing an official residence for its president as a part of the compensation for leading the province’s largest university.

Campbell also earns a maximum salary of $349,999, making him the highest paid president of the four publicly-funded universities in New Brunswick. He earns less than the president of Dalhousie University in Halifax.

The university’s official residence used to be located down the street at 58 Waterloo Row.

Somerville House was turned over to the University of New Brunswick by Julia MacLauchlan and Warren McKenzie, two high-profile UNB alumni, in 2009 for $1.

The generous gift to the university meant UNB could sell its president’s residence and set aside the money from that sale to maintain the larger Somerville House.

Service New Brunswick records show 58 Waterloo Row was sold for $617,220 on Dec. 11, 2009.

The proceeds from the sale were directed into an interest-bearing trust account.

Carriere said the university can afford to maintain the president’s mansion without dipping into public funds or asking students to pay for the upgrades.

"This project was covered by this dedicated trust so no tuition dollars went into this project or tax dollars," he said.

City costs and approval

When Somerville House had its porch ripped up, contractors discovered an issue with the water and sewer pipes, which ran underneath the porch and into the house.

The pipes posed a problem for the university. The original budget hadn’t accounted for the additional costs but a university official said the work could not be deferred for long.

The University of New Brunswick had to receive approval from Fredericton's Preservation Review Board before starting the renovations to Somerville House. (CBC)

The work would have been required in a few years if it wasn't done in 2012, and that would have required the porch to be removed again, the official said.

The university decided to alter the budget and pay roughly $6,000 more to replace the pipes.

The City of Fredericton billed the university $773.18 for the work related to the water and sewer upgrades.

The water and sewer upgrades weren’t the only involvement the city had in the Somerville House renovations.

The university had to get special permission from the City of Fredericton before it could move forward with the renovations.

In a separate request through the province’s information law, CBC News received additional documents from the city showing the university received approval from the Preservation Review Board on July 5.

A day later, a building permit was issued by the Land Development Division allowing the renovations to move forward. The permit cost the university $884.50.

Final costs

Before UNB handed the keys of 58 Waterloo Row over to new owners, it had some bills to pay.

A Jan. 6, 2010, email from the university’s real estate and property development office said $3,409.70 was paid in final expenses associated with that home.

University records showed in recent years the president’s residence cost between $15,920 to $21,976 to operate. In 2006-07, the university paid $14,533 in maintenance costs, which pushed up the annual operating costs.

In 2008-09, the university paid just less than $16,000, but the cost pressures were reversed. In that year only $3,640 was paid in maintenance compared to $8,838.29 in natural gas, which is nearly triple the amount the university paid in 2006-07.

The university also picked up the tab for $1,880 in NB Power costs, $396 in water fees and $1,165.76 in cleaning fees.