Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chief taken off fire-hall project

Real estate not part of job description: mayor

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Fire-Paramedic Chief Reid Douglas has been stripped of the responsibility of overseeing the fire-paramedic station replacement program, which is the subject of an external review and a broader audit of city real estate transactions.

The completion of the new fire-paramedic Station No. 11 on Portage Avenue -- the last of four new fire-paramedic stations built under the much-maligned program -- is now in the hands of Winnipeg's planning, property and development department, Mayor Sam Katz said Wednesday.

"Property and planning has taken over. The fire chief does a great job of being a fire chief, but he's not supposed to be in charge of the project," Katz said.

Douglas has taken heat for negotiating a proposed swap of the soon-to-be-decommissioned Station No. 11 on Berry Street, the old Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue and a vacant parcel of city land on Mulvey Avenue East for the Shindico Realty-owned site of the new Station No. 12 on Taylor Avenue.

Now, councillors await an administrative report about cost increases and scope changes afflicting the new Station No. 11, which is under construction at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Route 90.

In September, councillors serving on executive policy committee were told the new Station No. 11 was as much as $2.3 million over budget.

On Wednesday, Katz said the cost increase is a result of the station increasing in size to 14,000 square feet from 10,500 square feet.

"We know that facility, the footplate has increased by I think 3,500 square feet, so obviously the cost will be higher," Katz said.

The mayor said he does not know who authorized the increase in the size and scope of the construction project. The design of the station changed at least twice since Douglas, chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl, United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest and project manager Kristine Friesen, a paramedic by training, travelled to southern Ontario in 2009 to look at other facilities, Sheegl told reporters in August.

Originally, Station No. 11 increased in size to house some form of firefighting museum or truck display, said several political and administrative sources, speaking under condition of anonymity. But that was abandoned in favour of a plan to move a hazardous-materials unit from Station No. 9 on Marion Street.

This enraged union president Forrest, who complained it is madness to move a hazardous-materials unit away from St. Boniface, where rail lines and major roads intersect with the city's largest industrial area. Last week, for example, a fireball erupted over the area following an explosion at Speedway International on Nicolas Avenue.

"We have been 100 per cent opposed to the haz-mat unit moving out of St. Boniface," Forrest said Wednesday. "You can not move haz-mat out of there because it's the highest priority."

Councillors expected a report about Station No. 11 to be published today in advance of a special meeting of council's protection committee on Monday. But the report has been held back for at least another week, as the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service mulls the possibility of moving a decontamination unit from Station No. 7 on Allan Blye Drive in the Maples into the new Station No. 11.

The rejection of the museum concept has left the city scrambling for an excuse to justify the increased scope and cost of Station No. 11, one official claimed.

"Then they thought, you better think up something else," said the official, speaking under condition of anonymity.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service declined to comment, citing the pending release of the Station No. 11 report.

Forrest said it's time for someone to lose their job over the fire-paramedic replacement program, lamenting that controversies have tarnished the construction of excellent facilities.

"It is absolutely insane, what is happening," he said.

Katz, however, said no staff changes will occur before the external review into the fire-paramedic program is complete.

"Until the review is done, business continues at city hall," the mayor said. "We have a city to run. We have many challenges (and) that's one of a thousand things we have to deal with."

The external review will commence in November, when someone is chosen to do the work. There is no target date for completion.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2012 A3

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