Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fire-paramedic station report delayed again

Cost overruns, land swap marred $17-M project for four stations

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Winnipeggers eager to learn what went wrong with the city's fire-paramedic station replacement program will have to wait another week, as the review of the construction project will not be ready in time for September's council meeting.

Consulting firm Ernst & Young LLP is in the final stages of conducting a review into the construction of four new stations, a $17.8-million program that embroiled city hall in scandal during the fall of 2012.

The final report, initially expected in May but delayed several times, will not be ready for release until the first week of October at the earliest, city auditor Brian Whiteside said Friday.

Council may hold a special meeting to allow the report to be tabled, he said.

Mayor Sam Katz said he is eager to see the report and expressed dismay it's taken nearly a year to produce.

"We were extremely disappointed when it wasn't out before the (summer) prorogation," Katz said. "I'm already disappointed it's taken this long. Whatever happens now, happens now."

The program involved the construction of a new Station No. 27 on Sage Creek Road, the reconstruction of Station No. 18 on Roblin Boulevard, the replacement of Berry Street's Station No. 11 with a new station on Portage Avenue and the replacement of Grosvenor Avenue's Station No. 12 with a new station on Taylor Avenue.

Last fall, council raised questions about the way the project was procured and expressed particular concern about the new stations No. 11 and 12.

The new Station No. 11 on Portage Avenue, which remains under construction inside a cloverleaf at Route 90, was beset with cost overruns.

The new Station No. 12 on Taylor Avenue was built on land owned by Winnipeg developer Shindico Realty. That land was slated to be swapped for three city surplus properties: the old Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue, the soon-to-be-decommissioned Station No. 11 on Berry Street and a parcel of vacant city land on Mulvey Avenue East in Fort Rouge.

Council cancelled the three-for-one land swap last fall and instructed city real estate managers to sell the surplus properties and negotiate the acquisition of the land on which the new Taylor Avenue fire-paramedic station is being built.

After council called an external review into the program, Ernst & Young was asked to look at the initial impetus for building all four new stations, scrutinize the way contracts for the facilities were awarded, assess the value for money received by taxpayers and examine all processes, controls and policies involved in the program.

Ernst &Young also was asked to make recommendations to the city and suggest disciplinary action, if required.

While the firm's review is nearing completion, it remains in the midst of presenting relevant sections of the report to individuals affected by the document, Whiteside said.

This is a standard move that ensures city employees learn of any criticism of their actions before information is made available to council, the media and the public.

"In order for this process to be fair, they have to understand what's in the report and have an opportunity to respond to it," Whiteside said. "They don't get to make any changes."

In meetings, individuals mentioned in the report have been allowed to take notes but were not allowed to walk out of a meeting room with a draft copy of the document.

Ernst & Young has been hired to conduct an audit of major city real estate transactions. It won't be finished for several months, Whiteside said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 A5


Updated on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 8:11 AM CDT: Adds photo

8:49 AM: changes headline

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