Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Another junkyard process

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Mayor Sam Katz boasted on Dec. 8, 2011, that the public need not worry about future cost overruns at the new downtown police headquarters because the city had a guaranteed maximum price. And he had a piece of paper to prove it.

"Everything is fine. Nothing is wrong," the mayor assured.

Well, it turns out something was very wrong.

The so-called guaranteed maximum of $194 million, nearly $70 million more than the original estimate, was based on a $137-million price for core construction. But that figure was based on a design that was only 30 per cent complete, according to a civic report this year, which also warned the design might not meet the needs of the Winnipeg Police Service.

A civic official warned the final price might be different once the final design was complete.

In other words, there was no authentic guaranteed maximum price and there was, indeed, something to worry about, despite the mayor's calming words.

City council was to find out today the next final price for the police headquarters, but Mayor Katz said Thursday there are no more surprises.

This whole mess, just the latest in a series, was undertaken because it was decided it made more sense to buy and redevelop Canada's Post's downtown warehouse, rather than spend an estimated $60 million to fix up the existing police headquarters and provide temporary space for the service during construction.

The city hired eight consultants in 2008 to find out if it made financial sense to renovate the post office building. They were wrong. City staff and private consultants deemed the foundation sound. They were wrong, too.

The post office was an industrial building that any junior analyst could have predicted would be difficult to retrofit for a police service, but for unknown reasons the city's then deputy chief administrative officer, Phil Sheegl, was determined to secure ownership of the behemoth for the city, which may well have been the only viable buyer for such a complex building.

It's only other conceivable fate would have been outright demolition.

There's no doubt the redevelopment is a valuable addition to the downtown, and it will enhance property values as well as put a new face on what was an ugly warehouse.

But that's not a justification for the boondoggle that has stuck the city with bills it did not anticipate, and uncomfortable questions about the competence and integrity of the process.

More answers are required, and hopefully they will be provided in the pending audit of recent civic real-estate transactions.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 1, 2013 A12

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