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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Stretched Canvas

Nathan Raine
Published Thursday October 29, 05:46 pm
Over budget and behind schedule, the Remai is causing controversy

The Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatchewan has had an interesting history thus far — and it’s still over a year away from opening.

Since the project was green-lit in 2010, Remai Modern has regularly found its way into the news. Highlights include the gallery receiving a large Picasso linocut collection, while lowlights include a proposed entrance fee of $16 (the now-decommissioned Mendel Art Gallery admitted by donation).

The latest news definitely falls into the lowlights category.

The gallery's construction, as reported to City Council in a recent four-page report, is behind schedule and considerably over budget. According to the report, the delays result from “drawing corrections and clarifications.” That will cost an additional $3.5 to $4.5 million, bringing the total budget for the gallery to over $88 million.

Upset councillors were told by City Manager Murray Totland that the construction of the gallery has experienced “a stream of changing conditions.”

“It's a very challenging job,” says Mike Gutek, Director of Major Projects at the City of Saskatoon. “The target of any project is to be on time and on budget, so yeah, this has been challenging [...] We're doing the best we can with the hand we've been dealt.”

The report states that “administration is exploring opportunities” including a “full review of the minimum expenditure required for furniture, fixtures, and equipment,” as well as “opportunities for private funding” to cover the extra cost, although no firm decision has been made as of yet.

“That question wasn't really answered,” says Gutek. “Could be a combination of things. We don't have a solution but as the report outlines, it will probably be a mix of things.”

One thing that is known is that the contracted company, Ellis Don, will not cover the cost, nor will they be given any penalty for coming in over budget and behind schedule. (A Saskatoon representative from Ellis Don was not available for comment.)

“The fact of the matter is if there are any changes with those drawings or things that are wrong, we owe the general contractor money [for what] has to be changed or corrected,” says Gutek.

“The type of project delivery that was chosen here was a conventional design-build scenario. If things change, they are entitled to costs associated with that, and the City bears the risk because that's the method we chose,” he says.

When asked if there was a ceiling as to how much the budget would increase, Gutek said there was not.

So: What exactly needs to be “corrected and clarified” during construction? “Lots of things,” he says. “Everything that's in a building.”


Unsurprisingly, news of increased costs and delays has drawn considerable criticism around the city. Avi Akkerman, a professor of Geography and Planning at the University of Saskatchewan, is one of many who’s picking up on a certain aroma.

“It smells very bad,” says Akkerman. “There should be a contract between the recipient of the work and the company that is doing the work. The contract should say, 'If you don't do the work on time, if you don't do it properly, there are penalties.'”

“It's amazing. No other normal city would allow this. Not to mention a normal country. This does not sound like a transparent project.”

Akkerman says that he’s skeptical that the City will be able to find methods other than taxation to come up with the money.

“I don't believe it will come from private funding. If I was a private company I would say, 'You've shown mismanagement and now you're coming to me to ask for more money? I won't give it to you.' What private company in their right mind would feel good about giving them money?” says Akkerman. “In the end, it's going to be you and me and everyone else in the city that’s going to pay for it.”

If we taxpayers are indeed left footing the bill, it’d also be nice to know what we're paying for. Along with learning studios, a restaurant, theatre, store, event spaces and an underground parking lot, the building will house a gallery space five times bigger than that of the Mendel. How do they plan to fill it?

“I have no idea what they will do with this huge space,” says Akkerman. “Why do we need such a huge building? What kind of world-class art are they going to put in this building? I don't know. It’s going to be something mediocre because they have to fill it up.”

Gregory Burke, Executive Director and CEO of Remai Modern, says that exhibitions have not yet been announced.

“I can only give you a general sense of that. We're not announcing our general programs for probably a year.”

Burke says that in addition to the Picasso exhibiti, the gallery will feature exhibitions from the permanent collection, curated exhibitions and a free gallery showcasing regularly alternated works.

In regards to the announced delays, Burke the finished product will be worth the wait.

“This is not just putting up a standing office building — this gallery is extremely complex and it’s being designed on several levels, in keeping with the desire to be a great design and great community space,” he says.

“It's going to be delayed a few months — but I what I would say is that it’s going to be well worth the wait. It's such a spectacular opportunity for Saskatoon [...] It will absolutely be a huge community hub in Saskatoon and a talking point around Canada.”

It certainly has become a talking point already, although not all are praising the City's handling of the Remai Modern project.

“[The City] says the citizens can participate in our budget decision-making, but they’re engaging in non-transparent expenditures and it’s costing the City millions of dollars,” says Akkerman. “It's going to come from our money. There should've been a referendum from the City for that kind of amount. There would be close to a 100 per cent turnout and it would be almost a unanimous 'no.' If one million gets lost somewhere, how are we going to know about it?”

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