Nova Scotia

It cost $130K to renovate 7 steps at Province House

When Premier Stephen McNeil makes his way into Province House for the start of the spring sitting, he will head up granite stairs that have undergone a pricey renovation.

Renovation of granite stairs at the rear of the Nova Scotia Legislature went slightly over budget

Renovations to the stairs at the rear of Province House in Halifax cost $130,000 (Jean Laroche/CBC)

When Premier Stephen McNeil walks to Province House from his Halifax office, the last part of his journey usually sees him bound up seven steps leading into the back entrance of the legislature.

Later this month, when the spring sitting begins, he'll be stepping on newly refurbished granite stairs and using a brand new iron handrail — thanks to a renovation that comes with a $130,000 price tag. That includes a consultant's report that suggested the work should cost $85,000.

The province hoped the renovation would resolve a long-standing issue with crumbling mortar, a problem caused in part by corrosion from salt used to keep the stairs free from snow and ice.

That mortar not only holds together the granite slabs that make up the landing, it's also what keeps the granite steps in place over top of a concrete archway.

Salt used to keep the stairs free of snow and ice was also corroding the mortar. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The contractor for the repair job, Duron Atlantic Ltd., bid $97,000 for the work. Masontech Inc. estimated it could complete the job for $175,000.

The work wrapped up late last month, coming in slightly over budget and taking three weeks longer than anticipated.

The problem "was a slight delay in the manufacturing of the rails," said Marla MacInnis, a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure Renewal. Those steel rails include cast-iron decorations that were part of the previous handrails, which had been too short to meet safety regulations.

The stair work is only the latest in a series of renovations or upgrades at Province House in recent years. Since 2010, the building has undergone three other six-figure projects, including a $600,000 window replacement, the installation of a new $162,000 elevator and a $360,000 roof.

The stairs leading into the back of Province House, as seen in September. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The stair renovation kicked off in mid-August but workers had to curtail construction when the fall sitting started about a month later. While politicians were debating, workers could only do jobs that didn't disrupt proceedings.

The heavy work could restart when the House adjourned on Oct. 26, and the job was supposed to be done by the end of December. But it stretched on three more weeks, until Jan. 19. 

The contract between the province and Duron Atlantic allowed for a $100-a-day deduction in price for any work stretching beyond the Dec. 31 deadline. The province waived that penalty due to a weather-related issue, MacInnis said in an email.

"The rails went through some minor redesigning after a mock-up piece was presented. This pushed production into colder weather. The facility where the rails were being painted was unheated, and the primer wasn't adhering correctly, delaying production," she said.

"As the delay was mainly due to weather, and beyond the contractor's control, we felt it was not necessary to fine the company."

A drawing of the stairs from the tender document the Nova Scotia government issued when seeking a contractor to do the work. (Nova Scotia government)

Although the job seemed simple enough — "a partial removal of existing and supply of new stair and railing system," according to the tender notice — the detail of that work took 193 pages to outline.

The deputy infrastructure minister, Paul LaFleche, said several factors drove up costs beyond what the consultant suggested, including having to install and remove temporary stairs during the fall sitting to ensure the building's three fire exits were always accessible.

There was also the need to ensure the new stairs kept the same look.

"We wanted the work commensurate with the prestigious nature of the building," he said. Province House is a designated heritage property and officially opened on Feb. 11, 1819.

Mortar also holds the stairs over an archway. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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