During a Minden Hills council meeting last week, Councillor Bob Carter wondered how the cost of the so-called “validation phase” of the Minden arena project could run a 50 per cent overage in the span of six weeks.
It was a very, well . . . valid question.
As regular readers of this publication will be aware, in September, the previous township council approved up to $140,000 for the validation phase of the arena project – essentially a series of engineering assessments. The estimated cost for that work then grew to $252,000, and in December, council approved up to $280,000 to be spent on it. Then last week, councillors heard that cost was now estimated at $323,000, and with legal and additional meeting costs factored in, the true cost is up around $350,000.
Councillors heard from township staff and reps of the construction firm involved in the project about the complexities of the validation phase, part of the integrated design process, which is a relatively new system of project delivery in Canada; complications with the existing building; changes to the design for a new one; and about apparent miscommunication, for which the construction company took the blame.
Still, the cost the township is now being asked to pay for this initial phase of the project is some $200,000 more than was publicly presented in the fall. This is very problematic, does not create an optimistic picture about how the rest of the proposed project will go, and should be disconcerting to all residents of Minden Hills.
A flaw throughout this entire process, one emphasized over and over again by Councillor Pam Sayne, is that a project worth, with tax, more than $14 million is being awarded to a lone bidder. Presumably, if Minden Hills councillors were putting additions on their homes, they would get more than one quote for that job, not just go with the one contractor who expressed initial interest, and let him call all the shots. They should be doing the same on a project worth many millions of taxpayers’ dollars. A project of this scope should not proceed without competitive bids, and we are seeing the reasons why, in real time.
It certainly seems that at least some members of council, staff, and the construction company are operating as if the contract has already been signed, which it has not.
“The number we gave you, it includes all of that fee, you’re not paying more here,” one of the company’s reps said last week, referencing the total cost of the project, which has not been approved by council.
And it’s not too late. No contract has been signed. As community services director Mark Coleman told councillors back in December, “If you don’t agree with the price, or don’t agree with the design, or any reason, for that matter, [council] could pause, they could stop it outright, they could terminate it outright.”
Given the way things are unfolding, it may behoove councillors to take a second look at the process. That would certainly be a valid decision.