Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cost of police HQ rises again

Transit service condition of sale; worth $125,000 a year

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A city Transit bus pulls up in front  of Canada Post's new airport facility.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

A city Transit bus pulls up in front of Canada Post's new airport facility. Photo Store

Winnipeg taxpayers are on the hook for $125,000 in annual transit subsidies attached to a new police-headquarters project whose budget has ballooned to $211 million.

In 2009, Canada Post agreed to sole-source the sale of its former downtown mail-processing facility to the City of Winnipeg, which is converting the Graham Avenue structure into new headquarters for the Winnipeg Police Service.

One of the conditions of the transaction required the city to extend Winnipeg Transit service from Polo Park to Canada Post's new mail-processing facility on Wellington Avenue, near Richardson International Airport.

The cost of the additional bus service is $350,000 a year, a figure partly offset by $225,000 in additional passenger revenue and provincial funding, a 2010 report says.

The report pegged the net cost of extending transit Route 20 to the airport at $125,000, mainly because additional buses were required.

'Right now, anything you put in front of us that has anything to do with the police headquarters project will put us on red alert...'

-- Coun. Jenny Gerbasi

"It is expected that this annual impact on the operating budget can be accommodated within (Winnipeg) Transit's current estimates on a go-forward basis," former Winnipeg Transit planner Bill Menzies wrote in the report.

City council approved this condition of sale when it signed off on the Canada Post building purchase in 2009. In 2010, council's public works committee -- Couns. Bill Clement (Charleswood), Harry Lazarenko (Mynarski), Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) and Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) -- approved the additional transit service.

On Tuesday, neither Gerbasi nor Vandal -- the only members of that committee who remain on council -- said they could recall the seven-paragraph report put before them in 2010.

Gerbasi, however, said she wishes she knew then what she knows now about the police-headquarters project, whose cost has risen to $211 million from an original estimate of $130 million, partly because of changes to a construction project that was based on an incomplete design.

"Right now, anything you put in front of us that has anything to do with the police-headquarters project will put us on red alert, skimming through everything," she said. "There are many aspects of this project that remain of concern to council."

Gerbasi said she would like to know how necessary it was to provide $350,000 worth of buses to Richardson International Airport.

Regardless of the initial rationale, Winnipeg Transit does not expect to end the service, director Dave Wardrop said in a statement.

"Given the additional service benefits that are offered to the commercial developments along Empress (Street), the new Canada Post mail-processing plant and the airport campus (including the new Greyhound Inter-City Bus Terminal), discontinuation of this extension is not currently being considered," he said.

Wardrop was unable to say how much the service cost Winnipeg Transit but said the additional buses did not result in any cuts to service elsewhere.

Gerbasi said she is calling for a full audit of the police-headquarters project, along the lines of the external review into the fire-paramedic-station replacement program.

An ongoing audit of major City of Winnipeg real estate transactions will only examine the acquisition of the Canada Post building.

The city purchased the building for $31.5 million and initially planned to renovate it for $99 million, for an original project cost of $130 million in 2009.

In 2010, that overall budget was revised upward to $168 million. It became $194 million in 2011 when initial construction estimates were found to be inaccurate.

Another $17 million in costs were revealed to council this year, taking the project up to $211 million.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2013 B1

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