ANTIGONISH - Municipal officials have been fielding concerns regarding the lack of a tendering process for construction of the new Antigonish Farmers’ Market (AFM) building.
“They are legitimate (concerns) – just that it is not our project and we can’t do a lot about it,” Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher told reporters after council’s Nov. 18 monthly meeting.
The AFM board of directors made the decision to sole source for the project, rather than issue a request for proposals.
“We are very excited that we are going to have a year-round facility and we do not regret giving the funding that we did give,” Boucher added, noting they continue to be “in full support” of the initiative.
“That being said, it is important to say that if it was coming from the town, there would have been a request for proposals, definitely.
She added “it goes against our policies.”
“When we did give the money, it was in good faith – that there were no attachments to it,” Boucher explained.
With its $150,000 contribution, the town did not require that a tendering process take place; nor did the Municipality of the County of Antigonish and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), which provided funding of $200,000 and $750,000, respectively, to the estimated $1.2-million initiative.
“We have had some people who have had some concerns,” AFM board of directors’ chair Casey van de Sande said.
When asked about the process, he added “we had to make a decision.”
By the spring, after more than three years of work by volunteers to get the project off the ground, Van de Sande said they were “in a spot where we became exhausted.”
There was uncertainty, at the time, whether or not there would be federal funding. With the monies already secured, including the municipal contributions, he explained the board of directors started making adjustments to the plan with their architect.
With the ACOA contribution announced in July, he noted, timelines were tightened, as they focussed on getting things moving before the winter.
“He was the guy that we all knew,” Van de Sande said of the selection of Archibald General Contracting Ltd.
He noted there were board members that had familiarity with the company’s work, including on the Lochaber Centre initiative a few years ago.
“I am not saying others couldn’t have done a good job, but that’s what we went with,” he said.
“We thought – at the time – that we were doing the right thing and we still think we did the right thing with what we had.”
When it comes to upsetting some with their decision, Van de Sande said “we didn’t do it intentionally.”
“We can see it now (the concern) but at the time we were concerned with getting the job done and making sure that we try to do it with the monies that we had,” he added. Van de Sande reminded that they were not required to call for tenders.
As for the construction process, Van de Sande said “things are going well,” noting concrete was poured at the site on the previous day.
After county council’s meeting – one night after the town gathering on Nov. 19 – Warden Owen McCarron said officials from both municipalities met with AFM board members to discuss the issue.
They delivered the concerns of residents that came in and their own regarding how the process unfolded.
“After hearing the discussion from the farmers’ market people – and they are a group of volunteers working hard to make this happen – we understood that it might have been a bit of an oversight, but certainly there was nothing done with any attempt to misrepresent,” McCarron said.
“They explained it very well and we certainly wish them well as they move forward.”
Boucher echoed that sentiment.
“We told them about our concerns and they understood them,” she said.
Change under consideration
Although there is nothing that can be changed, when it comes to this funding initiative, town and county officials said it has brought to light the need for the possible creation of a new municipal policy.
“If we are giving out a certain amount of money, the project should go to a tendering bid,” Boucher said, noting – as per the Municipal Government Act – municipalities must call for proposals for any projects costing more than $10,000.
“That’s something that we will look at going forward because, obviously, that might have been a weakness that maybe should have been looked at,” McCarron added.