Fire chief blames delays for bigger bill

Appears before councillors to explain Station 11 cost


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Winnipeg's fire-paramedic construction saga has grown even more complex as Chief Reid Douglas says project delays, not design changes, are responsible for the $2.3-million cost increase to Station No. 11.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/10/2012 (3804 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg’s fire-paramedic construction saga has grown even more complex as Chief Reid Douglas says project delays, not design changes, are responsible for the $2.3-million cost increase to Station No. 11.

After almost three hours of grilling by members of city council’s protection and community services committee, Douglas said there was no recent order to change the design and scope of the new fire-paramedic station under construction at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Route 90.

A report before city council suggests the project cost increased to $6.5 million from $4.3 million due to the need to house a hazardous-materials unit, an aerial-ladder unit and a training facility in the station, which had increased in size to 14,000 square feet from 10,500 square feet.

Douglas said design changes to the station were made in early 2011 at the latest, long before construction began. The work started in the summer with the pouring of a foundation and cost overruns were made apparent on Aug. 9, Douglas said.

“We found out on (Aug. 9) when we met with the builders that there was going to be a significant cost increase due to two years post-design and increased construction costs and the way the project was rolling out,” Douglas told reporters.

The chief said he immediately spoke to chief financial officer Mike Ruta, who advised him to go before city council and request additional funds in September, after the end of the summer prorogation.

A report requesting a draw against future fire-paramedic construction spending in 2013 was published on Oct. 26, after one month of administrative revisions. The report was still met with disappointment by protection chairwoman Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo), who asked Douglas, chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl and chief operations officer Deepak Joshi to appear before her committee.

In a scene reminiscent of a commission of inquiry, Sheegl said he learned of the cost overruns in late August and rejected assertions made by Couns.Ross Eadie (Mynarski) and Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) that he should have known about problems involving the station earlier. “There were no red flags,” Sheegl said.

Sheegl, Joshi and Douglas urged council to approve the additional funding to avoid heating and hoarding costs over the winter. They said developer Shindico and construction company Precon have been paid less than $1 million to build the station’s foundation but have started on the rest of the structure in order to meet the tight timelines of a federal infrastructure loan.

Havixbeck, however, demanded to know exactly what the additional $2.2 million would pay for, as a previous request for $62,000 in additional funds to complete a new fire-paramedic station in Sage Creek came with much more supporting information.

She also tried — and failed — to convince her committee colleagues to force Sheegl to find a means to pay for the cost overruns somewhere other than by spending money to replace other fire-paramedic stations in the future.

Her committee ultimately voted to merely receive the report as information, which amounts to placing it on the shelf. That means the task of deciding whether to spend more cash on the project falls to council’s executive policy committee on Nov. 7.

Douglas said the city should be proud of Station No. 11, which he described as cutting-edge because it’s located inside a cloverleaf. But the cloverleaf location led the city’s public works department to cancel his plan to place antique firefighting equipment on display inside the structure.

“Public works felt that location wouldn’t be conducive to have anything there that would distract from traffic,” said Douglas, who came up with the museum idea.

“We have these old trucks languishing around in warehouses that are going rusty and everything. We thought it would be good for the kids of the city and visitors to the city to be able to stop in at the station (and) be able to see the antique apparatus.”

The chief also dismissed councillors’ concerns that he would be made into a scapegoat for the project.

“People are going to say what they’re going to say. I take my job very seriously,” he said.

Who’s managing this thing?

ALONG with questions about cost overruns at fire-paramedic Station No. 11, the identity of the project manager is also a matter of confusion at city hall.

At a July committee meeting, paramedic Kristine Friesen was identified as a project manager. But chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl told councillors Williams Engineering is fulfilling that role and described Friesen’s title as “client advocate.”

Fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas, meanwhile, said Friesen was appointed to the project design team by the Manitoba Government Employees Union Local 911, which represents paramedics. Friesen later became a liaison between the city, the station architect and the construction firm, the chief said.

United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg vice-president David Naaykens then produced a September 2012 letter from the chief that suggests Friesen is, in fact, a project manager.

Her union, meanwhile, said it only put her name forward as a participant on the design committee. “Subsequently, Chief Douglas decided to second her as project manager, as a result of good work on the committee,” MGEU spokesman John Baert said in a statement. “MGEU wasn’t involved in the secondment decision.”

— Kives

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