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Toronto facing lawsuit as it prepares to award next mink mile public works project

Improvements made along Bloor Street West (between Yonge Street and Avenue Road) in Toronto included new planter boxes, bike locking posts, new trees and granite sidewalks.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

As the city of Toronto prepares to select the winning bidder for major road repair in the Bloor-Yorkville area, it is still facing legal problems over the last significant public works project in the high-end shopping district.

The construction company that completed renovations to the Bloor Street corridor from Church Street to Avenue Road, is seeking nearly $1.4-million in damages from the city.

Four Seasons Site Development alleges that it was required to install 90 cast iron tree grates along the corridor as an "extra," and there were additional costs for underground "soil cell" structures to grow tree roots beneath the sidewalk. The Brampton-based construction company also claims it should be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, beyond the contract, as a result of "numerous delays which were not contemplated in the tender," according to documents filed in Ontario Superior Court.

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Four Seasons was initially awarded a $19.7-million contract in 2008, in what was referred to as the "Bloor Street Transformation Project," in a partnership between the city and the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Area (BIA). The design included greater than normal tree plantings along the side of the road, widened granite sidewalks and sustainable planter systems for trees.

A number of "significant unseen issues," according to a May, 2010, report written by city staff, resulted in delays and cost escalations during the first phase of the project. The problems included vibrations at one building as a result of the excavation; a need for additional traffic signals and a requirement to lower 14 hydro chambers below Bloor Street. As a result, the city's bid committee approved an increase of nearly $4.5-million to the contract, to a total of $24.2-million.

Harvey Dorsey, lawyer for Four Seasons, said his client filed the lawsuit because of additional costs incurred beyond what the city agreed to pay in 2010. "These are further delays we are talking about," said Mr. Dorsey.

Four Seasons filed the lawsuit in May 2012, although the legal action has not previously been made public by the city. It filed a statement of defence in court that denies that the tree grates were "extras" in the contract or that money is owed for the soil cell construction. The city also rejects the suggestion that Four Seasons is entitled to additional payments.

"The City and Four Seasons entered into a change directive in which they agreed on an amount to compensate Four Seasons for all such delay costs. The City has paid that sum and therefore owes no further amount for delays encountered during Phase 1," says the city in its statement of defence.

The legal action has been in a holding pattern for several months because Four Seasons has retained an independent consultant to assess its additional costs, explained Mr. Dorsey. "It has taken some time to gather the evidence," he said.

While there are differences over payments, Mr. Dorsey said there is no dispute over the quality of the work provided by Four Seasons, which continues to be awarded city construction contracts. "It is a bidding process. As long as they are qualified and have the low bid, they will get the job," said Mr. Dorsey.

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Briar de Lange, executive director of the Bloor-Yorkville BIA, said it is satisfied with the final product, including the special tree planters. "So far, so good," she said.

The city is expected to award a contract this spring for road repairs and streetscape improvements along Bay Street from Bloor to Davenport Road. The issues that arose during the Bloor Street renovations should not re-occur, said Ms. de Lange. That project "was far more complex," she said.

The one issue still outstanding is whether a 25-metre-long indent along Bay Street, which Pusateri's Fine Foods uses as a valet parking zone, will be removed so the sidewalk can be widened. City staff will report back to council next month on its discussions with the store.

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