Candidates weigh in on capital project spending

Red Deer city council messed up when they allowed expenses on the civic yards project to skyrocket to more than $120 million, says a council candidate.

Red Deer city council messed up when they allowed expenses on the civic yards project to skyrocket to more than $120 million, says a council candidate.

Jeffrey Dawson, the former city councillor who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2007, blasted current leaders for not reining in expenses on the project to relocate the civic yards to a much larger site.

Dawson said he had supported a preliminary budget of $30 million, believing it could balloon to $50 million, which he was OK with.

“I remember most of council saying I was out to lunch, there was no way that administration would go that far over budget,” said Dawson this week.

“I never dreamed it would be $122 million. Council needed to put the brakes on it.”

Dawson further criticized the city’s plans, now deferred, to expand the civic centre for about $138 million.

Meanwhile, private developers built 12-storey Executive Place, with about the same square feet as the expansion, for about $40 million.

“We need to have buildings that are functional, healthy, but they don’t need to be extravagant,” said Dawson.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said he’s heard complaints about the civic yards price tag and that it’s been negatively portrayed as Red Deer’s Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, because of its decorative water coolers.

“I think if people were to look into what we did — we freed up 35 acres for downtown development and it would have cost us $20 million to repair the (former) civic buildings,” Flewwelling said.

Opened in 2009, the civic yards includes nine buildings that incorporate a number of energy efficiencies.

“Because we have 500 employees who work out of there, it’s a very large operation and with the square footage, the (cost) is very much in the ballpark,” Flewwelling said.

Frank Wong, seeking a third term as councillor, said he “sort of agrees” with critics of the civic yards because he argued in council chambers that the Electric, Light and Power Department shouldn’t be moved because its building was just 25 years old.

Recent spending was necessary because some aging facilities, including the G.H. Dawe Centre, needed upgrades, he added. Wong would have liked a second rink built as part of Dawe’s renovations.

There are new candidates who believe some capital projects within the city’s 10-year plans and beyond, including the 50-metre pool, should be done a lot earlier, but “we can’t really finance it.”

“We should prioritize everything again, go through the exercise again, but not just pick and choose one because people raise it as an election issue,” said Wong.

Councillor candidate Jason Chilibeck pans the construction costs of the recently opened $21.3-million Sorensen Station parkade, which he estimates will not break even for 37 years.

For all major projects and facilities, he proposes publicly released cost justifications. Any completed projects should include “lessons learned statements” to understand project successes and deficiencies.

That information would be useful when building future assets, Chilibeck said.