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Council split on Fountain Park oversight requirements

Council members narrowly voted down a motion that would have required administration to bring an updated project charter before council for approval.
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Council members were divided on whether the city should go to council to seek additional approval now that more is known about the repairs. FILE/Photo

Councillors debated how much oversight they should have over projects affecting city buildings at a Monday council meeting.

Fountain Park Recreation Centre is closed for repairs, a closure that became extended in August when the city discovered damage on the underside of a concrete slab supporting both facility pools. Coun. Sheena Hughes put forward a motion Monday requesting the city bring forward a detailed project charter for the ongoing repairs. 

While the closure began in May and was slated to end in September, the city responded to the discovery of the concrete slab damage by bumping up additional repairs scheduled for 2024 to happen this year. The change raised questions from Hughes, who said council should have additional oversight in how the city proceeds with projects. 

“This is not about whether the pool needs to be done, or whether or not it should be approved,” Hughes said Monday. “I absolutely agree we should do the pool … and I’m really glad that we have the funding available.

“Technically, we had approval for these projects, but it’s not how I would have expected those approvals to come forward, and it’s not how it’s been done in the past.”

In February, the city estimated both phases of the Fountain Park repairs would cost $10.5 million. The new, most recent cost estimate by the city places the price tag higher, at around $17.4 million.

Funding approvals

While council approved the funding for the Fountain Park repair under a generic project charter to repair, maintain, and replace (RMR) the city’s municipal facilities, a detailed description of the project including the total costs of both phases did not come before council for approval. 

The bulk of the funding for the Fountain Park life-cycle repairs came from the city’s municipal facilities renewal and repair fund. 

The charter does not outline specific projects, but instead is “to implement repair and renew plans as identified through facility life-cycle condition assessment and subsequent detailed analysis for various municipal facilities.”
 
The charter for the fund lists the 2022 allocation at $4.8 million. However, in anticipating the extent of the repairs to Fountain Park, the city saved up the allocations from the previous three years, and is now factoring in the council-approved charter cost of $4.6 million for 2023. 

Council members were split over whether they would like to have seen a more detailed project charter with updated costs come forward. Also up for debate was whether council should have received more clarity on the city’s intent to put four year’s worth of renewal and repair funds toward Fountain Park.

“We’ve totally lost sight of what we are getting for this investment,” Coun. Mike Killick said. “When residents walk into that pool … they’re going to ask council and say, ‘Who approved that?’

“I’m not looking for an engineering study …. But it would be nice to know in general terms — what is council getting for the money?”

Coun. Wes Brodhead said he does not believe Hughes' motion would "get us where we need to go."

“The fact of the matter is here, we ended up with a problem at Fountain Park pool that was unforeseen, and we had an option to take two years or three years-worth of funding, do it all at one time, save our community half a million dollars, and that was disclosed to council,” Brodhead said. 

In a backgrounder provided with Hughes’ motion, the city said combining both phases of the project in one long closure will bring in cost savings of around $500,000 and knock nine weeks off the total time of the previously planned closure length.

“I think councillors should actually be applauding that this fund is around and given the flexibility to act fast,” Mayor Cathy Heron said.

“This comes down to whether you trust city staff and the amount of disclosure … this council has had on this project,” Heron said. 

She noted writing up a new project charter would mean construction on the project would be delayed. 

“The public, their only concern is this pool opens up as fast as possible, so that’s my concern, too,” Heron said.

The motion failed 4-3, with Coun. Shelley Biermanski, Killick, and Hughes in favour.