Council wants expert to predict project costs

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City council voted to hire someone who can provide it with a more accurate cost prediction for projects in the city’s 10-year municipal capital growth plan.

Mayor Nolan Crouse motioned for the position after council was asked to vote on several projects with estimated dollar amounts that he often referred to as “place holders.”

This included a vote on a new civic building as part of the downtown area redevelopment plan. Staff provided council with an estimate of $50.3 million for the 2022 budget but said that number is likely to change.

It also did not include the cost for servicing, parking or landscaping, among other things.

Crouse later asked administration to split the dollar amount on several project motions, so council would have a better idea of the price tag allocated for the planning and construction of projects over several years.

But he also said that many of the numbers were poor and there was no rigour in estimating them.

“None of us can feel good about some of these numbers in the capital plan,” he said.

The city’s 10-year capital plan addresses both repair and maintenance of already-established infrastructure and new projects.

While the plan is not set in stone, even if council passes it during its 2016 budget approval process, there are many major projects in it that could be rolling out in St. Albert over the next decade.

Councillors choose when to allocate money toward these projects in the budget based on their importance and their cost.

“It impacts decisions on whether we go ahead or not with some of the projects so it is critical that we have some accurate numbers,” said Coun. Tim Osborne.

Asked why it is so difficult to get accurate numbers now, city manager Patrick Draper said that staff does not have a lot of expertise when it comes to construction projects, especially around civic facilities.

That kind of knowledge has only become paramount now that council is looking at several building projects as part of its downtown area redevelopment plan and other facilities around the city.

He added that the city often relies on different external firms to provide it with cost estimates but having a person on staff would also allow for more consistency.

Both Draper and Gilles Prefontaine, chief community development officer, said that staff is very competent with other projects though.

“When it comes to utilities, often we deal with those year after year after year,” said Prefontaine.

Council voted to allocate $125,000 from the 2016 budget to hire a technical expert with a broad knowledge of capital planning projects and their cost.

Crouse originally motioned to allocate $375,000 for the position over a longer period of time but agreed to change the amount for a one-year position.

Coun. Sheena Hughes said this would give council the option to renew the contract and test it out first.

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