Restaurant, foundation, fire alarms: Why construction costs soared at the Remai Modern

Using a Freedom of Information request, CBC News has obtained the five largest construction change orders asked for by Architecture49, Inc., the Winnipeg firm responsible for building the Remai Modern art gallery in Saskatoon.

Gallery faces funding shortfall between $2.5M and $4.5M

Construction costs of the Remai Modern are estimated to be $84 million. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

It's been a long, hard road to build the Remai Modern.

Originally announced in 2009 at a cost of $58 million, the Saskatoon gallery has experienced numerous cost overruns and delays.

It finally opened to the public on Saturday.

With a current construction price tag of roughly $84 million, some people may be wondering how that number grew so high.

Using a Freedom of Information request, CBC News has obtained the five most expensive construction change orders asked for by Architecture49, Inc., the Winnipeg firm responsible for building the gallery. There are almost 500 change orders in total.

The change orders ranged from issues with the building's foundations to revisions on the gallery's new restaurant.

Restaurant, fireplaces, stairs: $1M

The lobby of the Remai Modern art gallery in Saskatoon. (Courtney Markewich/CBC)

In December 2014, the Remai Modern board asked for an additional $6 million to pay for capital costs.

In a report to city council, the gallery's board said the changes were "largely driven by the changes to better address the operating and business plans for the Remai Modern."

Those changes included an additional $836,000 for revisions to the gallery's restaurant and atrium. Notable Toronto-based restaurateurs Oliver & Bonacini will be supplying food services in the gallery. 

Adding a fireplace, plus stairs, washroom and kitchen revisions cost an additional $210,500.

Foundation changes: $225K

In February 2014, construction company EllisDon asked for an additional $225,000 in changes to the building's foundation. 

As the company was digging the foundation, EllisDon said it found a larger area of poor soil conditions than was expected. That meant replacing the dirt with stone.

As well, delays on engineering and testing pushed the project into cold weather months. That meant EllisDon had to thaw the ground to complete the excavation. The company also needed to use winter concrete to complete the project.

Concrete and steel testing: $327K

The media was given a sneak peek of the gallery on Thursday. (Don Somers/CBC News)

In February 2015, EllisDon asked the City of Saskatoon for an additional $327,000 for more testing on building materials.

The testing included an extra $115,500 to test poured concrete, $80,000 to test reinforcing steel and $59,000 for inspection testing.

The additional money meant the total cost of testing and inspections for the gallery totalled $780,000. 

While the testing cost came out as above average for building projects in the Saskatoon area, EllisDon noted that the Remai Modern "has a higher standard of quality, especially for building envelope testing. As a result, a higher than average testing budget is expected."

Changes to fire alarm system: $246K

In March 2015, the Remai Modern's fire alarm system was upgraded.

The two-stage system is more sophisticated than a traditional fire alarm system, and requires staff to trigger an alarm, rather than rely on a simple alarm switch being pulled.

Deferred items: $1.6M

This piece at the Remai Modern art gallery plays on spectrum of light used in SAD lights, to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

In November 2013, council agreed to restore an additional $1.6 million to the Remai Modern's construction budget. 

The items, which include everything from a deck and ramp on the gallery's fourth floor, to drywall and paint for the gallery, had been deferred by city councillors until the gallery raised enough money to pay for the items. 

While at the time the gallery had only raised $696,000, it asked council for a cash advance of more than $900,000 while fundraising continued.

Among the deferred items were a monolithic wood bench ($16,000), a deck and ramp leading to the fourth floor ($273,000) and expanded space for touring exhibits ($167,000).

The report stated the city needed to fund the gallery to meet construction time constraints.

Ultimately, the Remai Modern managed to raise the entire amount itself, and didn't need to borrow any money from the City of Saskatoon.


David Shield is a web writer for CBC Saskatoon.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?