Biz owner’s school light offer hung up on legal wrangling

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A businessman who waited years for the city to accept his gift of flashing school zone lights says a contract dispute has stalled the program again.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/03/2022 (263 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A businessman who waited years for the city to accept his gift of flashing school zone lights says a contract dispute has stalled the program again.

Chuck Lewis, who owns Expert Electric, first offered to donate the solar-powered amber beacons to the city in 2017.

He was frustrated because councillors kept debating the issue, so he briefly withdrew his offer. Shortly after, in September 2020, council approved it.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Chuck Lewis, owner of Expert Electric with a flashing light that he installed by Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary & Middle School in Winnipeg. Lewis first offered to donate the solar-powered amber beacons to the city in 2017.

The first set of lights, which better alert drivers to the 30 km/h school zone speed limit than speed signs alone, was installed on Bedson Street near Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary and Middle School in April 2021.

However, Lewis says the project has been bogged down in a contract dispute since then.

“The (city) sent me a new contract… and I was held liable for everything. There was no comparison to what I originally signed,” he said.

Lewis said the problem emerged several months ago when he contacted the city to arrange to install the second set of lights. (Each school zone requires two beacons).

He said the city informed him a new contract was needed. When he received it, his lawyer advised him not to sign it.

Lewis said he was advised the new terms are too vague, which would leave him at risk of legal claims if the lights malfunctioned and a child was hurt, or even for potential lost traffic ticket revenue.

“I said this isn’t what I signed. We should be able to go back to (the first contract), this is what we agreed upon. And they never responded,” said Lewis.

The business owner said he believes the set of lights that was installed has improved safety.

“With all the obstructions… tree limbs that are covering signage and everything else, the average person (may not) see the (reduced school zone speed limit) sign. If you have something blinking at you, like a beacon, it grabs your attention,” he said.

His company also provided a traffic safety course for students of the school where the lights are installed.

In September 2020, the city expected “a minimum” of one pair of lights would be installed per month until 480 donated beacons were put in place. Lewis said each pair of lights would cost him about $7,000.

At the time, the city also expected to pay for another 391 beacons, pending future budget approvals.

Five years after his original attempt to donate the lights, Lewis questions the city’s commitment to install them. Resumption of the program depends on whether a deal similar to the original contract can be secured, he said.

“They have to come back with something that’s (acceptable)… The last time they came back, what they proposed was so silly that nobody in their right mind would agree to it,” said Lewis.

Coun. Kevin Klein, who has championed the school zone lights proposal at city hall, said he’s disappointed.

“We had told residents (the lights) were coming and once again we’ve disappointed residents. We’re not doing what we said we would do,” said Klein. “When council gives a direction to do something, why does the public service feel they have the right to delay it as long as they want?”

In an emailed statement on Friday, the city confirmed the project has been “shelved” over a legal agreement that couldn’t be finalized. Municipal officials say they were waiting on a response from Lewis on the last proposed agreement.

“Action on the file went quiet and therefore the city considers the project shelved at this point,” wrote Felicia Wiltshire, the city’s communications director. “The city was supportive of the proposed project and made a genuine effort to try to move the project forward.”

The statement notes municipal officials were concerned the program would require new mounting posts to be added at the city’s expense and that the beacons would be installed over many years (leaving some school zones with them and others without them for a lengthy period).

The fact the city would need to fund additional beacons, which was noted in the September 2020 report, was also listed as a concern.

Joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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