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Contractor ponders lien on new Alberni high school property

Ted Walton, standing in front, and his employees protested on Tuesday morning over money they say is still owed to them for work done at the new high school site that was over and above their contract. Walton is staving off bankruptcy and his employees are on EI. - WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News
Ted Walton, standing in front, and his employees protested on Tuesday morning over money they say is still owed to them for work done at the new high school site that was over and above their contract. Walton is staving off bankruptcy and his employees are on EI.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

Controversy over the new high school on Roger Street has erupted again.

More than a dozen employees of Walton Excavating protested against contractor Yellowridge Construction at the new high school site on Tuesday morning.

The men say the Port Moody company still owes them more than $1 million dollars for work they performed.

“I’m hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, I’ve got machinery payments to make and local businesses I owe money to,” Walton Excavating owner Ted Walton said.

“I spent a lifetime building my company — I don’t want to lose it, but I could.”

Walton laid off his employees, who are scraping by on employment insurance now.

“These are people who have families, bills and food to put on the table.”

Walton says he’s considering putting a lien on school district property.

“They haven’t left me any choice.”

Walton’s company was hired on Sept. 23 and his $1.3 million contract involved doing foundation work including excavation and backfilling, as well as supply, placement and compaction of all base materials for slabs on grades.

Walton said his contract called for the removal of 36,775 cubic metres of fill and bringing in 13,800 cubic metres of rock.

For six months Walton removed fill and trucked in gravel to the site.

The loads were accounted for, on schedule, and Yellowridge never raised any issues with him, Walton said.

But he ended up having to remove 100,000 cubic metres more of fill than his contract called for.

“By October we removed 33,000 cubic metres and we were just hitting the middle of it,” Walton said.

Yellowridge was aware that more fill was being taken out, he added.

Walton had been billing regularly and was being paid.

He submitted a bill to Yellowridge for removing excess fill from the site on a Friday in February.

School District 70 told Yellowridge that there was no money to pay for excess fill removal and the following Monday Yellowridge removed Walton’s company from the site.

Yellowridge paid Walton $1.8 million— $5,000 more than the $1.3 million contract.

But Walton says he’s still owed $1.2 million for excess fill removal.

Walton points to a geotechnical survey performed at the site by Lewkowich Engineering Associates  Ltd., a Nanaimo company contracted by the school district.

The study didn't accurately reflect the amount of fill to be taken out, Walton said.

The school district hired Yellowridge in 2009 and is therefore ultimately responsible for the situation.

“They’re saying it’s a disagreement between Yellowridge and me,” Walton said.

“Well, if a dog bites me I’m going to sue the owner—not the dog.”

Yellowridge responded to the matter with a press release on Tuesday afternoon.

“It is not uncommon on a construction project to have disputes arise,” noted contract administrator Kevin Waite in the release.

Yellowridge tries to resolve disputes “However, there are times that disputes cannot be resolved,” Waite said.

The company acknowledges that there is a dispute with a subcontractor at the new high school site in Alberni but that the matter is concluded.

“The subcontractor has been paid in accordance with their contract for all work performed,” Waite said without naming the subcontractor.

School District 70 may have hired Yellowridge to build the $60 million dollar school, but it isn’t responsible for the situation Walton and his employees are in, SD70 secretary treasurer Jerry Linning said.

There have been discussions between SD70 and Yellowridge about Walton. “The district doesn’t have a problem with him,” Linning said.

The district is also not aware of any other problems that would have prompted Walton’s removal from the site, he added.

The land the new high school is being built on was obtained in a swap with the city in 2009.

But SD70 wasn’t aware of how much fill there was on the property before the swap took place, Linning said.

The geotechnical study of the high school site was made available to all project proponents including Yellowridge during the bidding process.

Linning couldn’t say how a lien on the new high school property would impact the project or the district.

“It hasn’t been taken out yet so it’s premature to comment,” he added.

The district hasn’t sought the advice of its attorney, Miller-Thomson, about the Walton matter.

“But they’ve advised us on how to respond to inquiries from the public and media about this matter,” Linning said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

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