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Hughes raises concerns about Fountain Park repair process

Hughes said she would like to see a detailed project charter for the Fountain Park pool repairs, which look to have grown from around $6 million to $17.4 million.
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Mayor Cathy Heron did not share Coun. Sheena Hughes's concerns, adding that she is "satisfied with the information administration has shared on this project." CITY OF ST. ALBERT/Photo

A St. Albert city councillor has raised concerns about the way the city has proceeded with Fountain Park life-cycle repairs, though other council members say the city followed the correct procedure. 

During a council meeting Sept. 19, Coun. Sheena Hughes posed questions of administration about the funding for Fountain Park Pool life-cycle repairs. 

Earlier in September, the city announced it is anticipating the extended closure of Fountain Park pool will conclude in 2023. The facility closed in May for repairs, including the replacement of its primary air-handling system. 

The closure was originally planned to conclude in September, with a second phase of life-cycle repairs scheduled for 2024. Alongside the announcement that the closure is set to end next summer, the city said these additional repairs would be moved up so an additional closure in 2024 is no longer needed. 

“I don’t feel like the proper disclosure has been happening on this project,” Hughes said, adding she would like to see a breakdown of the project repairs and upgrades and their initial and updated costs. 

“This is a major project, and I think that council should have full disclosure of it and the public should be aware of exactly what’s going on, and I don’t think necessarily we’ve done that justice.”

Diane McMordie, the city’s chief financial officer, said council didn’t have “specific knowledge” of the city’s plans with the Fountain Park repair, as the project charter council approved is kept general to give the city flexibility. 

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 renewal plans as identified through facility life-cycle condition assessment and subsequent detailed analysis for various municipal facilities.”

McMordie said it’s key to maintain flexibility for repair, maintenance, and replacement (RMR) projects. 

“Sometimes with RMR, things become urgent quickly,” McMordie said. “It would be good if we could come up with a way that council gets the information they need … but still allows that flexibility for us to be agile when we need to be.”

Extra costs accommodated: McMordie

The charter for the fund lists the 2022 allocation at $4.8 million. 

In February, the city said the 2022 allocation for the repairs to Fountain Park was some $6 million, with the total costs for both phases of repairs estimated at $10.5 million. 

The new, most recent cost estimate by the city places the price tag higher, at around $17.4 million. 

According to the capital charter for the municipal facilities renewal and repair fund, the fund’s allocation for 2023 is some $5.1 million, meaning the combined total amount for 2022 and 2023 would be $12.3 million. 

When Hughes questioned why the city did not come forward when the repairs exceeded the initial funding envelope, McMordie said they could still be covered due to carry-forward funding left over from prior years, which council approved in addition to projects to carry forward. 

“The overall approved budgets that council had given us was a larger amount because of those carry forwards,” McMordie said. 

Earlier in September, city spokesperson Marci Ng told The Gazette the other facility repairs slated for 2023 had been shuffled around to accommodate the additional cost of Fountain Park. 

When asked what projects have been delayed, city manager of corporate communications Cory Sinclair the city has re-sequenced life-cycle repairs to St. Albert Place, where the city is still looking into what repairs will be needed.  

Hughes said she would like to see a detailed project charter for the Fountain Park pool repairs. 

“Why don’t we just bring forward phase two as a project charter and not arbitrarily and one sided — because we’re not having any say in this — cancelling other projects in 2023 so we can afford this,” Hughes asked. “Why are we not just doing a project charter?”

Hughes gave notice of a motion during the council meeting that, if passed, would require the city to bring forward a detailed project charter of both the first and second phases of renovations to council by the end of October 2022 for approval. 

The charters would include a breakdown of the repairs and upgrades and the work performed, to date, as well as the original and updated estimated costs. 

The Gazette reached out to the city for response to Hughes’s statement that “proper disclosure” hasn’t been happening on the project. City spokesperson Cory Sinclair said via email that the city “will not be providing any response regarding comment."

Other council members do not share concerns

In an emailed statement, Mayor Cathy Heron said she disagrees with Hughes’s comments. 

“This project charter is an RMR charter that is used to give broad and flexible authority to administration to take care of our municipal buildings,” Heron said in the email. 

She said administration has provided updates to council on the project and provided answers to council’s questions.  

“I am satisfied with the information administration has shared on this project,” Heron said in the email. “I have the utmost trust in the staff to deal with this unforeseen capital investment. They have the best interests of all St. Albertans in mind. Time is of the essence, and I do not want to see anything that will slow the completion down.”

Coun. Natalie Joly echoed Heron, and said the city has given the chief administrative officer the flexibility to tackle infrastructure issues as they arise. 

"We task the city manager with taking care of our properties and making sure they're safe," Joly said. 

Coun. Ken Mackay said he would like to see the project charter, but said unless there was a change in the scope and cost of the project, he doesn’t believe the matter should have come before council. 

“If they’ve substantially changed the scope of the project, I would have similar concerns that they should have brought it back,” MacKay said, adding he would be in favour of seeing a more detailed project charter and cost breakdown to gather more information.