‘Funding gap’ halts construction on $75-million Métis cultural centre in Fort McMurray, Alta.

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Construction on a $75-million Métis cultural centre in Fort McMurray, Alta., has been halted because the organization behind the project ran out of money. The project was originally expected to cost $22 million, but last year the McMurray Métis told the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo the cost had jumped to $74.7 million.

The Métis Nation of Alberta’s McMurray Métis Local 1935 started construction in 2021 and the project has received about $35 million in funding from municipal, provincial and federal governments.

A new project team has been hired to review the project and potential costs for construction, following an announcement in April of an operational and financial review, including an audit to make sure past financial decisions were made responsibly, a financial review of the organization, and a review of the cultural centre construction.

In a news release, McMurray Métis said construction “needs to be paused” and local leadership will focus on “securing the existing asset” and “addressing the funding gap to move this project forward.”

According to the release, the group is “committed to continuing to build our foundation for future generations, and the Métis cultural centre is an important part of our future.”

Wood Buffalo regional council voted to provide the cultural centre project with a $13.1 million grant in July 2021 and if the project is not completed, McMurray Métis would be expected to repay the grant.

The Province of Alberta provided $5 million to the project through a capital infrastructure grant in 2021 and Alberta Infrastructure approved $16.5 million through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure program.

A regional councillor told CBC News the construction halt could be a lesson for Wood Buffalo.

“When we have a big capital project like this, I think there should be a certain percentage [of funds] that should already be on the table before the municipality puts in any further money or allows the project to even begin,” she is quoted saying.

“It’s just unfortunate for the entire community if it doesn’t finish at this point.”

The cultural centre, designed in the shape of an infinity symbol, was to include office space, space for training and employment and child and family welfare support, along with displays of Métis artifacts.

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