City council is prepared to dish out $101,500 to cover the increasing cost of repairing and maintaining the Bristol Freighter plane monument located at Highway 3 and Old Airport Road.
After discussion during Monday’s governance and priorities committee meeting, councillors supported the expense, which has risen from an estimated $55,000 in 2018.
The city is aiming to have the project done this year, council heard.
The Bristol Freighter was the first wheeled aircraft to land at the North Pole in 1967. The plane had been owned by Northern aviation pioneer Max Ward, who retired from service in 1969. The model is known for having serviced the North for many years during the 20th Century. It made regular stops at trading posts, oil and mine sites, Arctic islands and schools.
In 1970, the Yellowknife Museum Society bought the plane from Wardair Canada Ltd. for $1 and erected it at the entrance to the city soon thereafter.
On Monday, senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett explained that the previous council had approved spending $55,000 to upgrade the paint job and repair work needed on the plane, as it has not seen fresh paint since 1996 .
“However, when we tendered this in 2018, bids came in much higher than the $55,000 that was available. So now the heritage committee has reconsidered this and is recommending additional resources come out of the heritage reserve to support this project,” said Bassi-Kellett.
In 2018, only one contractor expressed interest in the project and the quote at that time was $72,269.
According to Monday’s memorandum, there’s $186,068.59 in the heritage reserve, which will be tapped into to cover the Bristol Freighter repairs. The heritage committee had already budgeted $35,000 in other expenses for 2020.
Coun. Shauna Morgan had some reservations about the increased amount and pushed for a lower price. In the end, she supported the proposed figure with the rest of council.
“I don’t feel comfortable with us inflating our estimate by that much when we already have indication that there’s not that much competition in town,” she said. “Is there anything preventing someone from just now bidding the maximum amount and getting the contract because you’re the only one bidding?”
Coun. Julian Morse, who chairs the heritage committee, said the project has been a priority of the committee for a few years and the cost is warranted given the style of project and the worsening condition of the monument.
“I would say, yes, it has been surprising how expensive it is, but when it comes down to it, it is quite a specialized project,” he said. “This is not the same as painting a building, which is effectively a cube where you need to roll paint onto it. It’s a very technical painting job with all sorts of taping of the different lines on the plane. You’re preserving the kind of the colouring of the plane and from my understanding, painting a plane is just an expensive thing to do in general. We’re not even painting this thing with aviation-grade paint.”
Mayor Rebecca Alty and Bassi-Kellett said given the nature of the city’s online procurement process — whereby those bidding don’t necessarily know how many others are going for the same contract — the project could come in well under the amount budgeted.
Vandalism and security
Part of Monday’s discussion also raised concern over site security and further graffiti vandalism of the plane. Coun. Steve Payne stated he would be in support of wildlife security cameras on site and possibly additional fencing.
Grant White, director of community services, said the area used to have a fence in an attempt to discourage people from climbing the monument.
“Every year, it just got vandalized people would cut (the fence), people would go under,” White said. “So because of the remoteness of that you know a fence isn’t really a deterrent. It’s more of a ongoing maintenance costs. We never really have considered putting cameras as was suggested.”
Bassi-Kellett noted that the city does have a security camera policy to follow, which aims to balance protecting assets and public safety with residents’ rights to privacy.
Council is scheduled to vote on the item at the June 8 regular council meeting.