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This article was published 26/5/2016 (1788 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt accuses Mayor Brian Bowman of playing politics with a local swimming pool project as payback for Wyatt’s criticism of the mayor.
Wyatt said he believes Bowman has quietly told senior administrators to make no effort to revive the Transcona Centennial Pool expansion project, stopped mid-construction a year ago — supposedly because of escalating costs.
"I’ve been tough and very vocal with the mayor on the budget and on several other projects and I can only conclude this is the way he’s hitting back," Wyatt said.
"He’s not a Portage and Main lawyer any more – he’s supposed to be the mayor of all of the city," Wyatt said of Bowman. "The sad thing is, he’s not hurting me, he’s hurting the kids of Transcona."
Bowman denies the accusation, saying he supported adding money to the Transcona Centennial Pool expansion project.
The pool project ground to an unexpected stop last fall when the administration said tenders for upgrades to the indoor facility exceeded the approved $6 million project budget, climbing to $7.5 million.
Wyatt said he spent the past nine months working behind the scenes with the administration and other councillors and cobbled together the additional $1.5 million – redirecting funds from recreational and parks and land sales within his ward – needed to complete the project as originally proposed. But the administration is ignoring directions from a civic committee in mid-April to prepare a report to move the project along and instead, the administration is ready to sign contracts to construct a scaled-down version of the pool expansion.
Wyatt said when he questioned department officials why they’ve taken no action, they refused to provide him with an explanation. Wyatt said department officials told him they will be in a position to authorize construction contracts for the scaled-down project after Monday.
Bowman said he supports the pool project, pointing to his support of the 2016 budget that allocated $2.3 million for the pool. However, Bowman repeatedly said that money was an increase for the pool project, when it was actually alternative sources of funding to make up funds the administration had failed to generate through the sale of the Roland Michener pool and sponsorship funds.
"Since becoming mayor I’ve encouraged constructive collaboration between elected members of council and the public service," Bowman said in response to Wyatt's allegations against him. "I’ve encouraged all councillors to work collaboratively with the public service on broader policy issues as well as issues unique to their ward, such as this.
"All I can say is we have increased the budget by $2.3 million. That should be a very clear indication of my support for the Transcona pool and that support remains."
Wyatt said Bowman supported an amendment to the 2016 budget that provided an additional $2.4 million for the Seven Oaks pool, using money that ultimately will be taken from the 2018 streets budget.
"I put together a plan that found the money (for the Transcona pool) from other recreation projects in my ward but for the Seven Oaks pool, they’re taking money that’s supposed to be used to build streets," Wyatt said. "They’re prepared to do that for the kids of Seven Oaks but not consider my plan for the kids of Transcona."
Wyatt said planning department staff, under direction from CAO Doug McNeil and without any authorization from a civic committee or council, redesigned the entire Transcona project to stay within the $6 million budget: the proposed interior washrooms and lobby expansion were abandoned, and instead it's now proposed a second building will be constructed to house washrooms and change rooms for the outdoor pool users and the mechanical and electrical equipment.
Wyatt said the proposed design changes mean the addition planned for Phase 3 will never take place because the indoor facility no longer has enough washroom and change rooms to comply with building code requirements.
"The administration has altered the original project approved by council to such an extent that it’s no longer the same project," Wyatt said. "The changes should have been brought back to council for further approval."
At the time, the administration was only required to provide quarterly status reports for projects valued at $10 million or higher (that threshold has since been raised to $20 million). As a result, there have been no formal, written reports from the administration to council or to any committee explaining why the project was unexpectedly shut down and how it’s been altered from what council approved.
Compounding the situation, there were no reports to any committee as the project was being developed – the entire project was relegated to the budget process and discussions between staff, the architect and Wyatt.
"That's just the way this project was done," Wyatt said. "That doesn't make it right but that's how this and other projects have moved along."
A new outdoor pool and water slide is the first phase of a three-phase redevelopment of the Transcona pool, which was constructed in 1967 to commemorate the country's centennial. The second phase involved expansion of the indoor pool lobby and expansion of its washroom and change room facilities and accommodations in the basement for new mechanical and electrical equipment needed for the outdoor pool. The new washrooms were designed to accommodate the additional users to the outdoor pool and for additional users expected to use new facilities to be constructed at a later date in Phase 3, which involved a 5,600 square-foot addition, including an indoor water leisure facility. The new washroom area was also to function as the entrance to the Phase 3 component.