New Brunswick

$13M has been spent, but cancelling Fredericton courthouse worth the savings, says minister

After $13.05 million worth of work, the Centennial Building and courthouse project is on indefinite hold. The site will get some fencing and tidying up but no more.

No money has been allocated for the project in next 5 years

Demolition of the Centennial Building was already underway when the project was put on indefinite hold. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

After $13.05 million worth of work, the Centennial Building and courthouse project is on indefinite hold.

Construction crews on-site are now removing equipment, leaving behind an empty building and a levelled lot next to Fredericton's convention centre, provincial legislature and brand-new Hilton Garden Inn hotel. 

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Bill Oliver said the Progressive Conservative government has allocated no money to the project in its five-year capital budget plan. 

Dropping the project was part of the capital budget presentation this week by the minority government. 

The plan now for the downtown property is to do some tidying up and add some fencing.

After $13.5 million’s worth of cleanup, demolition and foundation laying,the Centennial Building and courthouse project has been cancelled. 0:36

"We're saving approximately $60 million in construction costs," Oliver said in defence of halting a project already underway. "We're not incurring those costs, I should say."

Oliver said the taxpayer money already spent is considered a loss. 

"We know there are going to be costs associated with cancelling the project. But we want to secure the site. And we'll be backfilling the hole, and installing some fencing and security cameras.''

Exterior of the Fredericton courthouse on Queen Street. (CBC)

The project was budgeted to cost $76 million, and work, including demolition and cleanup, began in 2017.

The goal was to renovate the Centennial Building, which was opened in 1967, and build a new six-storey courthouse over five years.

The concept here is that we do not need more government buildings in this province. We do not need more in this city.- Blaine Higgs , premier

As of this month, $13.05 million has either been spent or "committed" to contractors, said Paul Bradley,  a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Nothing is planned for the site now.

"That includes a new justice building and the remaining Centennial building," he said.

Work already done on the project includes demolition of the back wing and boiler plant of the Centennial Building, interior demolition, and the removal of hazardous materials on the remaining structure, he said. 

"The foundations and steel structure contract for the courthouse has just started," Bradley said.

The new Fredericton courthouse was going to connect to the remaining part of the Centennial Building by a two-storey passageway. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

The Centennial Building mainly housed government offices.  

During question period Wednesday, Green Party Leader David Coon and Liberal MLA Stephen Horsman both criticized Premier Blaine Higgs for forsaking the project.

"The situation that exists in that courthouse is disgraceful, and the reason for a new courthouse has nothing to do with spending unneeded money," Coon said.

Horsman said this decision "represents a huge loss."

A design of the new Fredericton courthouse, which may not come to fruition in the next five years. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

"This project was going to allow quicker access for families and for those who are struggling with mental illness," he said.

"This was also going to assist with a more secure place for people to work. Everyone — judges, police officers, sheriffs, civilians, workers and the clients who are going through the system — would have been safer."

Horsman asked Higgs if he would consult with different departments, including with the minister of public safety, before making a final decision.

"The decision has been made" Higgs responded. "This is the point. Here we are.

"The concept here is that we do not need more government buildings in this province. We do not need more in this city."

He said the government will look at the current courthouse and see how it can be improved.

"It is not a matter of just building another courthouse because there is one in Moncton, there is one in Saint John," he said.

"This is a tough decision being made, and it is being made for the right reasons."

With files from Shane Fowler

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