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Swansea public school expansion stalled by soil conditions

Donna Quan is shown inside the boardroom of the TDSB at the beginning of their meeting in Toronto on Jan. 16, 2013. The board is trying to decide upon a successor to Chris Spence, and Quan's is one name being suggested as a real possibility.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board is reviewing costs related to the expansion of Swansea Junior & Public School after discovering that soil conditions are an issue. A provincial report released Thursday identified the project as one that requires monitoring.

"It now appears that as a result of soil conditions – contaminated soil and load bearing capacity, the Swansea addition will not be available before September 2016 and the cost will be substantially higher," the report says.

The Special Assistance Team report from the Ministry of Education indicates that an addition to Swansea was approved with a projected $6.5-million budget. The addition was part of a plan to meet enrolment growth from the implementation of all-day kindergarten.

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The soil remediation will delay the project two years beyond its originally scheduled completion date of September 2014.

"As the budget for this project is part of the review, it would be premature to comment on any potential cost changes at this point in time," acting TDSB director Donna Quan said in an e-mail.

Contaminated soil was partly responsible for delays and cost overruns at Nelson Mandela Park Public School and increased the budget on that project from $16.4-million to $28-million.

The soil conditions were discovered within the last two months and the review of the project by the board began shortly thereafter, according to Ryan Bird, a spokesperson for TDSB.

The Special Assistance team also questions why the procurement process currently in use at TDSB has not begun to adopt changes recommended in a PricewaterhouseCoopers report last fall.

The report says: "Though there has been some recognition and acceptance of the desperate need for change, there has been no significant commitment to making the decisions necessary for procurement cost reduction."

Currently, the board has a pool of 150 contractors who are the first to bid on projects with budgets of up to $1.5-million. That number needs to reduce to achieve cost savings, the ministry report says.

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"The Board is pulling together staff to review all aspects of the report, including the development of a strong and viable procurement strategy," Ms. Quan's emailed response stated.

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