Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Report takes heat off fire chief

It finds he had authority to change specs for Station No. 11

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The long-awaited report on the cost overruns at Winnipeg's new fire-paramedic Station No. 11 is expected to gloss over who authorized the changes to the new St. James facility.

Station No. 11, under construction inside a cloverleaf at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Route 90, is $2.3 million over budget, thanks to a change order that saw the station increase in size to 14,000 square feet from 10,500 square feet.

Over the past month, Mayor Sam Katz has refused to say who authorized the cost increase, even though only a handful of city officials -- fire paramedic Chief Reid Douglas, project manager Kristine Friesen and chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl -- could have ordered the change.

A report expected to be released today states Douglas had the authority to make the changes but does not explicitly blame the chief, who has been stripped of responsibility for the completion of the project.

Normally, city department directors must seek council approval before they authorize expenditures that exceed council-approved budgets.

According to the report, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service believed Station No. 11 could be expanded without exceeding the $15.3-million overall budget for all four of the city's new fire-paramedic stations.

Station No. 11 was originally supposed to cost $4.2 million, but that increased to $6.5 million after more space was ordered. It was originally for a firefighting museum, which the city's public works department rejected due to the problematic location inside a cloverleaf.

That extra space was later pegged as the home of a hazardous-materials unit, a training facility and an aerial-ladder unit as city officials scrambled to justify the need for added space, according to sources speaking under condition of anonymity.

Alex Forrest of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, who was critical of the plan to move haz-mat operations out of Station No. 9 in St. Boniface, said the additional space at Station No. 11 will be put to good use by the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service.

At city council, Couns. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) and Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) grilled Katz and protection committee chairwoman Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) on executive policy committee's reluctance to release any information about the Station No. 11 cost overruns.

On the floor of council, Katz said it was up to Havixbeck to release that information. She confirmed the report on Station No. 11 would be released today and will be considered by her committee Monday.

St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel said critics of the fire-paramedic station replacement program have failed to focus on the benefits of building four new stations.

Katz agreed, noting it's been decades since the city upgraded its fire-paramedic infrastructure. "Something wonderful and special is happening," the mayor told council.

That statement inspired a derisive response from critics of the program, which has resulted in a new Station No. 12 getting built on land the city does not own and a proposed land swap of that station for two old fire halls and a parcel of vacant city land.

"We do need new fire-paramedic stations, there's no doubt about that. But how we went about that is not special and good," said Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie.

Decisions made by council Wednesday:

-- Veterans' parking: Council voted unanimously to approve Mayor Sam Katz's plan to offer up to 20 hours of free parking every year in Winnipeg for military veterans. The plan also calls for free parking on the anniversary of D-Day (June 6), the Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9) and Remembrance Day (Nov. 11).

-- Jubilee transit station: Council voted 13-3 to approve a plan to cost-share the $3-million construction of a new rapid-transit station adjacent to Gem Equities' housing development. Couns. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) and Russ Wyatt (Transcona) voted in opposition.

-- Corydon plan: Council voted unanimously to spend up to $100,000 for a new Corydon-Osborne area planning framework, which replaces an earlier plan cancelled in the summer.

-- Kives

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2012 B1

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