COLLINGWOOD — A citizens’ group says it feels misled by the town’s deputy-mayor and the municipality’s former acting CAO, who both told the community Centennial Pool would be ready for swimming by mid-winter.

In a statement released earlier this month, Better Together Collingwood also claims the pool is now more than one-third over the original budget of $3.6 million, when the addition of the therapeutic pool at $550,000 and upgrades to the 45-year-old pool tank at nearly $600,000 are added into the final cost.

Group spokesperson Brian Saunderson also says the fact the opening of the pool has been delayed a month or more demonstrates a lack of planning on the part of municipal officials.

“All these events show how ill-prepared and ill-planned the process was,” said Saunderson, who co-chaired the Central Park Steering Committee that looked at building a multi-use facility in the park in the heart of the community. “This was probably the biggest recreation expenditure this town has made in 40 or 50 years, or longer, and we did it in a span of six weeks.

“What’s happening now is hugely disappointing but not surprising, and it shows how quickly this was thrown together... and now it has come back to haunt us.”

Earlier this month, councillors were told the pool would not be open to the public until July. Aside from the changes approved by council — last fall to add the therapeutic pool and in February to upgrade the existing tank — an additional $93,000 has been spent handling ‘unknowns’ at both the pool and arena sites, which the contractor has cited as reasons for the delay in getting the two facilities open. Colder weather than anticipated this past winter also held up construction.

The original contract with builder BLT specified a date of substantial completion of both Centennial Pool and the new rink at Central Park by June 10 (another section of the contract outlining a schedule gives a ‘grand opening’ date for the pool of May 28).

Deputy-mayor Rick Lloyd commented, when council approved the purchase of two Sprung structures last August, that he expected the buildings — especially the one for Centennial Pool — to be be opened by January.

Former acting-CAO Ed Houghton, in his report to council last August, said the pool could be open by February, and the arena by the end of May. However, in an email to the Enterprise-Bulletin on Monday, he noted council did approve ‘significant’ upgrades to the pool that affected the completion date.

While the contract specified a June completion date for the pool, Houghton said he was optimistic the contractor could complete it sooner. Even without considering the upgrades, Houghton said construction progress was hampered by the cold weather in January and February and would have made an early completion of the facility difficult to achieve.

Saunderson also took aim at the idea the facilities were presented as ‘turn-key’, without the need to set aside a percentage of the budget to handle contingencies.

“I have no doubt the way the whole was presented... was about selling the concept,” said Saunderson. “It wasn’t an objective presentation to inform the public, it was designed to persuade the public.”

In an interview with the Enterprise-Bulletin, the deputy-mayor defended the process, adding he likely said a January or February opening because that’s what he was told at the beginning of the process of looking at the Sprung structures.

“I honestly believe this has been good planning in looking at an alternative for recreational facilities,” said Lloyd. “This made all the sense in the world, economically.”

Lloyd denied the situation was similar to when the town constructed the soccer fields at Fisher Field, and failed to include items such as the sprinkler system and waterline. The result was the fields came in significantly more than budgeted.

"We planned as we were doing it, and that's where we failed,”Lloyd said during the municipal election campaign in 2006. “(It) just kept coming back to council, and yes, council did support each and every one of the increases. We need better planning in the future so these kinds of things don't happen."

Lloyd denied his comments on the lack of planning with the soccer pitches in 2006 were applicable to the current situation, noting the current council has responded to the community’s wants by adding in the therapeutic pool and — as requested by the local competitive swim club — the upgrades to the pool tub.

“We’re listening to the public,” he said. “We’re being accountable and meeting the needs of the community.

“There has been a delay in opening the pool, but the delay has been embraced by the the users, because they’re pleased we’re addressing their needs. I don’t think it’s a case of bad planning.”

He also defended the Aug. 27 decision to go with the fabric membrane structures, given a staff report supporting that direction was only presented to councillors the Friday prior to the meeting. It was also recommended to sole-source the construction of the buildings.

While sole-sourcing is generally an unconventional practice, it is permitted in the town’s procurement bylaw under certain circumstances.

“We’ve been going through this debate (to build new recreational facilities) for close to 20 years, and this council stepped up to the plate, and it will be proven in the future that this was a great decision,” said Lloyd.

He said had council followed the report by the Central Park Steering Committee, the town would be faced with relocating the ball diamonds; taking the route council did, the town is only losing one ball diamond to make way for the rink.

“Central Park is more of a multi-use facility now than it was,” said the deputy-mayor.

However, the committee’s report also recommended that new diamonds be constructed prior to any diamonds at Central Park by removed in order to minimize the impact on users.

Lloyd also said the recent decision to change the entrance to the rink — from Lorne to Paterson, which added another $100,000 to the budget — came as a result of “listening to the residents.”

Saunderson also pointed out that the Central Park Steering Committee’s role was ‘grossly’ misstated, noting the committee was tasked with reviewing what could be done with Central Park, and providing recommendations, along with an estimate of costs. The committee was not designed to be a ‘proposal’ that would be put up against the Sprung buildings, or the option presented by Ameresco.

“Ours wasn’t a competitive bid process, it was information requested by the town,” he said. “To be included as a ‘proposal’ is a gross misrepresentation.”

Saunderson said his group believes the two facilities still won’t be completed under the new schedule, and may be subject to more cost overruns.

The group has also expressed concerns with potential operating costs for the pool, noting a realistic operating budget has not been developed.

Lloyd said he believed the community was “embracing” council’s decisions to build the two structures, and he hasn’t heard anyone complaining about the delay in opening.

“This has been good governance in my opinion,” he said.


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