Menno Braam, the highly skilled person town staff mentioned as the dry stone craftsman who will build the wall at the end of Mississagua Street, says he was very surprised to hear his name in connection with a landscaping contract that is intended to begin the work this fall.
The first he learned about the project was when someone from Niagara-on-the-Lake called to ask him about taking on a completely different job, after seeing his name mentioned in The Local in connection with the gateway, he says, and sending him a copy of the article.
“I was very surprised. I knew nothing about the project.”
A discussion at a committee of the whole meeting about contracting with Aldershot Landscaping, with Braam as a subcontractor to do the stone walling, referred to his particular skill in relation to the feature at the end of Mississagua Street.
Gerry Kowalchuk, the resident who is donating $250,000 and has taken a lead in the project, is anxious for work to begin in the fall, and spoke to councillors at their June 13 meeting about the next step, which was to sign a contract for the work.
“Working plans are complete, and we’re set to begin construction in September,” he said.
Aldershot, which he said had submitted a quote within budget, would be the general contractor, supervising the other trades, and with very few dry stone masons in Canada, Braam had been selected to construct the wall, “which is very important — it’s the focal point of the gateway project.”
“It is a definite advantage to have Mr. Braam as a sub-contractor to Aldershot Landscape Contractors,” Kowalchuk said.
When asked during the meeting by Coun. Gary Burroughs about Dean McLellan, a master craftsman and dry stone waller who is an instructor at Willowbank School of Restoration Arts, parks and recreation director Kevin Turcott said McLellan offered his services, “but when it came to a contract we couldn’t come to an agreement.”
Although councillors expressed reservations about the issue of single-sourcing for the $250,000 project, about half of which is the cost of the dry stone wall, CAO Marnie Cluckie explained that while a competitive process is preferred, in this situation it was a benefit for the town to meet its timeline, but more important is the matter of finding someone such as Braam with the right skills to do the specialty work.
Councillors voted to approve hiring Aldershot Landscape Contractors, with Burroughs dissenting.
Braam told The Local his fall schedule is filling up quickly, and it’s a project with high visibility he would like to be part of, but as of this weekend, all he knew about the project was what he had read in The Local.
He worked with Aldershot on another job, one for the University of Toronto, and says it went very well, and he’d be happy to work with them again.
But as for the NOTL project, “I had no idea it was happening. I wasn’t contacted by anyone.”
He called the mystery of how the mix-up occurred “an issue of miscommunication,” and a “misunderstanding — it was implied that I was involved,” he said, adding he would be happy to be part of the project, if his schedule permits and the details can be worked out.
Braam and McLelland are friends who have worked together in the past on different projects locally. McLelland explains Braam helped on an important Willowbank project, building the walls for the Blacksmith’s Shop on the property. The work took place over a period of years, as part of Stone Festivals held locally.
McLelland also donates his time, including working on two projects that were fundraisers for Red Roof Retreat, alongside Menno Braam. Participants worked on a dry stone wall to replace fencing, with McLelland and Braam overseeing the project and providing the instruction.
He was surprised when Braam contacted him to tell him he’d been mentioned in connection with the gateway project.
McLellan says he “was working on the gateway project for ages,” spending a significant amount of time meeting with Turcotte and town staff on the design of the dry stone wall, providing drawings and estimates, “hours and hours going over details,” and then more drawings as the design changed.
He even arranged for NOTL local Perry Hartwick, owner of Upper Canada Stone, a quarry in Madoc, Ont., to donate the tonnes of stone needed for the wall. “Perry,” he says, “is a saint.”
Turcotte originally wanted him to be the general contractor, and McLellan says he told him that’s not what he does, or his area of expertise, but that he would do the dry stone walling.
When it came time to sign the contract, however, the lack of a deposit was the deal-breaker.
“I’ve never done a project, ever, without a deposit. I’ve never had a client tell me they’re not giving a deposit.”
He would be bringing three men with him to work in NOTL, it would require equipment, and he couldn’t agree to the 30-day payment terms Turcotte was offering.
When the gateway project didn’t work out for him, it left a hole in his schedule, but that was quickly filled, fortunately for the sake of his employees, he said.
Town staff told The Local they would have a response that might clear up the mystery, but not in time for publication.
Kowalchuk, however, did respond.
Seferian Design Group, the landscape architect that worked on the design, had direct contact with the general contractor, Aldershot Landscaping, he explained.
Seferian provided details of the pricing, commencement and completion dates to him and town staff. “Thus, neither town staff or myself spoke to Aldershot.”
Since the dry stone wall is an important feature, “Aldershot also provided details of who the stone mason would be, namely, Menno Braam, including his background, experience, photos of similar projects, etc. Seferian was our representative in these discussions, which again, was communicated to myself and town staff.”
Kowalchuk says he does not believe there was a misunderstanding.
The general contractor has the responsibility for the whole job, including all sub-trades. Braam is one of several sub-trades, he explained. “To my knowledge, Seferian spoke to the general contractor, not the sub-trades.”
Finally, he added “Aldershot Landscaping has had experience with Menno Braam on other significant projects, and they are familiar with his work and likely his pricing.”
Aldershot owner Bill DeLuca said he was excited about the project, but as he is semi-retired from the family business, he didn’t know the details.
He said he would look into it, but didn’t get back to The Local by press time.