Worth the delay? Province won't say latest cost for new Fredericton courthouse

Construction of the new Fredericton courthouse halted after the steel frame was finished last year.  (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)
Construction of the new Fredericton courthouse halted after the steel frame was finished last year. (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)

The New Brunswick government won't say how much it's now expected to cost to finish a new Fredericton courthouse, a project the province has twice halted over its cost.

The province announced this week it had awarded a construction management contract to Ontario-based Bird Construction.

The announcement included no update about the cost of the project and the province wouldn't provide the information or details about the other bids.

"While the construction management contract has been signed by Bird Construction, the revised total estimated project cost still requires approval of the government later this spring, following closing of the current tenders by the construction manager," Bruce Macfarlane, a spokesperson for the province, said in an email.

Opposition want figures

Liberal MLA Chuck Chiasson, the party's infrastructure critic, said he wants to know the new estimated cost of the project.

"I think the province needs to come clean," Chiasson said.

Chiasson said he believes the old cost estimate was an underestimation and that with inflation the cost will only have gone up.

"I don't think by tendering it out to a management company that they're going to realize the savings that they wanted to see," Chiasson said.

"Surprise, surprise," Green Party Leader David Coon said of the lack of details.

"Because it's going to be way higher than the original cost that was quoted back in 2017 and, you know, we're five to seven years out now, and so the cost is going to be a lot higher on top of the money they've already wasted."

In 2017, the Liberal government under Premier Brian Gallant approved a new courthouse in a refurbished Centennial Building.

It was estimated to cost $76 million and would replace the Queen Street courthouse that's had security, flooding and maintenance problems.

It was among the projects Premier Blaine Higgs cancelled after taking office in 2018 after $13 million had already been spent.

The new Fredericton courthouse is expected to be completed by 2025.
The new Fredericton courthouse is expected to be completed by 2025.

Construction of the new courthouse is now expected by spring 2026. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

In 2021, the Higgs government announced it would go ahead with a new courthouse — on a different site — at an estimated cost of $60 million.

Attorney General Ted Flemming said at the time it was clear the Queen Street building was in an unacceptable condition.

"Not only was it just unacceptable, I believe that you could almost make a case that WorkSafe [N.B.] should have closed the place," Flemming said at the time.

Site preparation for the location on King Street was completed in May 2022 and the foundation and steel framing were completed last spring. Then the work halted.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure cancelled the main tender for construction after the lone bid from EllisDon came in "substantially over budget" at $93.27 million.

A gaping hole was left where the cancelled courthouse was supposed to be built on the rear of the Centennial Building. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Last year, the province went back to market for a construction management company.

At the time, it said it wanted the company in place by the end of 2023, though the company was only announced this week.

Bird will oversee the final phase of construction, which a news release says is expected to start this spring.

Coon is glad to see progress.

"The courthouse has been sitting there for months and months and months with the steel skeleton going nowhere."

Coon said the delay affects University of New Brunswick's plans for the Queen Street building.

The existing courthouse, once the new one opens, will become the new home of the university's law school.

The federal government, province and university announced last year they will collectively spend $62 million to renovate the building. At the time of that announcement, the law school expected to move there in 2025.

However, the latest news release about the new courthouse says it is now expected to be complete by spring 2026. The province didn't say when it is expected to open.