Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What's the deal with fire halls?

City hall can't recall if contract OK'd

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Despite assurances from Winnipeg's mayor, fire-paramedic chief and property director that a plan to build four new fire-paramedic stations is above board, no one at city hall can say whether council ever approved the construction contract.

In 2009, the city issued a formal search for firms qualified to design and build four new fire-paramedic stations in Sage Creek, Charleswood, River Heights and St. James. Seven qualified firms were invited to submit proposals to design and build the stations, but only one -- Shindico Realty -- responded and won the bid, said Winnipeg Fire-Paramedic Chief Reid Douglas.

According to the request for proposals, the project team responsible for the fire-paramedic upgrade was supposed to come back to city council to approve Shindico as the successful bidder. "Award of the contract to the recommended bidder will be subject to final approval by council," reads the request-for-proposal document, which was posted on the city's website on Thursday -- two years and four months after the submission deadline closed -- following media requests to see the document.

There appears to be no record on the city's legislative website, the Decision Making Information System, of council approving the fire-paramedic station contract. The last report mentioning the request for proposals went before council in February 2010.

After that, council was asked in July 2010 to approve a $9.7-million federal loan to complete the $15.3-million project and then approve a new architect for the project in May 2011. Council was then asked in March of this year to approve an approach to the new Station No. 12 on Taylor Avenue, land owned by Shindico executives Robert and Sandy Shindleman.

But according to the online records, it appears council has not been asked to approve the construction of the fire-paramedic station on Shindico's land -- or the overall construction contract.

The city clerk's department, which runs the legislative process at city hall, also could not locate any records of council approving the Shindico contract, deputy clerk Marc Lemoine said.

Neither could city staff, despite repeated requests on Thursday.

"We haven't finished our research, therefore we can't respond yet," said communications manager Steve West, who declined a Free Press request to speak to chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl.

Former St. Vital councillor Gord Steeves, who chaired the committee responsible for the fire-paramedic service until August 2010, also could not recall approving the contract. "I don't recall that specific report," Steeves said Thursday.

Neither could his successor as protection-committee chairwoman, Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck, who has asked the city's legal department for advice about the fire-paramedic station file. "We built a fire hall on someone else's land," she said, referring to Station No. 12, at 1780 Taylor Ave. "I'd like to know where we stand."

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who has been critical of a proposed land swap for the Taylor property, said she also could not recall being asked to approve the contract. "I think I would have remembered that," she said.

The only record of Shindico being awarded the fire-paramedic contract was posted on the city's materials-management website on Thursday. It notes Shindico was awarded a $3-million contract for the new Station No. 27 in Sage Creek in April 2011, a $3.2-million contract for the new Station No. 12 in November 2011 and a $3.2-million contract to rebuild Station No. 18 on Roblin Boulevard in November 2012. The latter date must be an error because that station is already open and operational.

A fourth new fire hall, Station No. 11, is under construction at 1705 Portage Ave., inside a cloverleaf at the Route 90 interchange. When completed, it will replace the existing Station No. 11 at 200 Berry St.

In September, council is poised to consider a land swap that would see the city acquire Shindico's Taylor Avenue land in exchange for the old Berry fire fall, the old Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue and a portion of a city-owned property at Mulvey Avenue East in Fort Rouge.

Councillors have criticized Douglas and the city's real estate division for negotiating the deal without their knowledge. If council decides against the swap, the city will pay Shindico $990,000 for the Taylor Avenue property, said Douglas and property director Barry Thorgrimson.

The two directors defended the swap as necessary for finding an appropriate location for the new No. 12 station and said they were under pressure to meet construction deadlines dictated by the $9.7-million federal loan.

Mayor Sam Katz also defended the swap, dismissing suggestions not enough due diligence was conducted. "Do you think the fire department would build a fire hall on someone else's land without having an agreement? If that happened, I would fire a bunch of people, even though I don't have the power to do that," Katz said earlier this week.

-- With files from Jen Skerritt

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2012 B1

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