Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Appalling lack of transparency in decision by Saskatoon police service and board to pursue larger, more expensive new headquarters

Excerpt from Police Chief Clive Weighill’s
Nov. 1, 2010, report to police board

Here we go again, another big ticket capital project with massive cost increases on the horizon.

Saskatoon police Chief Clive Weighill dropped a bombshell recently when he revealed that the long-planned new police headquarters would be bigger and more expensive than originally thought.

According to the StarPhoenix, Weighill told the board of police commissioners on February 24, 2011, that the police service is less than two months away from unveiling the construction company and architect for the project as the three bidding firms continue to prepare detailed drawings and cost estimates.

The previous estimate for the 5.74 acre site located north of 25th Street and west of Ontario Avenue was $91 million, but police and the city have reassessed the facility’s size due to the accelerated population growth in Saskatoon, Weighill said in an interview with the StarPhoenix after the meeting.

The facility’s total size has grown a whopping 64 percent to 328,000 square feet from 200,000 square feet. Underground parking is responsible for most of the extra space.

“The last thing (the board) wanted was to put out a large expenditure and move in and it’s already too small for our needs,” Weighill said in the article.

The final cost of the project won’t be known until the bids are submitted, Weighill said, but he admitted the $91-million figure is outdated.

“We won’t get that new price until April, but the price we were working with, it will probably be higher than that,” he said.

The three remaining firms in contention for the project are all joint partnerships between construction companies and architecture firms. PCL Construction is bidding with Stantec, Graham Construction with AECOM and EllisDon Corp. with Toronto-based CS&P Architects.

Weighill said separate meetings have been held with the bidders while more meetings are planned in March. [Police HQ supersized (StarPhoenix, Feb. 25, 2011)]

So in a nutshell, the city, police service and board, and project bidders have been working on this latest development without the public’s knowledge.

It should be noted as well that CS&P Architects Inc. (formerly Carruthers Shaw and Partners Limited, Architects) are the firm that prepared a comprehensive 10-year facilities plan for the police service in 2002. The final report was presented to the police board on December 13, 2002.

The $91 million figure first appeared in a November 12, 2007, report from Weighill to the police board that was subsequently tabled with the city’s budget committee on December 10, 2007. In the report, Weighill notes that consultants Carruthers Shaw and Partners estimated the cost of a replacement facility was $42 million in 2002.

“This cost has increased by more than two times to an estimated cost of $91 million dollars today,” Weighill said at the time.

Weighill recommended “that the construction of a new Police Headquarters building, to be completed by 2013, be approved.” The board did just that. Interestingly, no dollar figure was attached to the recommendation.

If the cost of the new headquarters rose 116 percent between 2002 and 2007, you can imagine how much it has escalated since then. Add to that a 64 percent increase to the facility’s size. The price tag for this monster could easily top $120 million.

The lack of transparency on the subject is appalling.

Weighill’s report to the police board was verbal. The agenda for the February 24 meeting posted on the city’s website contains no information whatsoever on the topic. If it weren’t for the StarPhoenix the public would likely still be in the dark.

Just as outrageous is the fact that Weighill appears to have presented the idea as a done deal. The new police headquarters will be bigger and it will cost more, end of discussion.

The police board consists of five members: Mayor Don Atchison as chair, councillors Bev Dubois and Myles Heidt (absent), and the public, represented by Dr. Vera Pezer and Gordon Martell.

If there was any discussion or debate at the meeting about Weighill’s update the StarPhoenix failed to report it. If any board members were interviewed that wasn’t reported either. In fact, the StarPhoenix hasn’t bothered to publish a follow-up article or editorial. Why is that?

The whole thing reeks of a controlled leak to prepare the public for what comes next.

On November 18, 2010, Weighill presented the police service’s preliminary 2011 capital budget and 2012-2015 capital plan to the police board. The chief’s report, dated November 1, states that the estimated “total project cost” of the new headquarters is $91 million.

The “projected needs for the next 20-30 years” were taken into consideration as was “adequate parking… to accommodate the public, a large operational vehicle fleet and staff parking.” Construction is to begin in 2011 and project completion for 2013, the report states.

The board adopted the chief’s recommendation to approve the budget, which was then forwarded to city council’s budget committee for consideration.

The minutes for the December 14, 2010, budget committee meeting show that Weighill “reviewed his budget submission and answered questions of the Committee.”

Presumably, there was no discussion about the police service wanting to super-size the new headquarters; otherwise it would have been reported.

According to the minutes, all the committee did was pass the following resolution: “that the Board of Police Commissioners be requested to consider reducing Saskatoon Police Service operating budget estimates by $150,000.”

On December 20, 2010, city council approved the 2011 operating and capital budgets, subject to a report from the police board regarding reducing the police service operating budget.

That matter was put to rest on February 7, 2011, when city council received a letter (dated Jan. 20, 2011) from the secretary of the police board advising that the board approved the $150,000 reduction.

The city’s 2011 budget document even states on page 79 that the new police headquarters “will cost approximately $91 million, and will be entirely funded through a combination of cash and borrowing.”

Through all of this there was no hint that the city or police service and board were considering drastic changes to the new headquarters. This leaves plenty of unanswered questions.

▪ Why did Weighill wait until the 11th hour to bring forward the new information?

▪ Why did Weighill not submit a written report?

▪ If Weighill knew the current estimate was outdated why wasn’t it updated?

▪ When did the city and police service first discuss changing the plans?

▪ Who initiated the idea – the board, the police service or the city?

▪ When did the police board first become aware of the new plans?

▪ Did the police board direct the chief to pursue the new plan?

▪ When did the city’s executive committee first become aware of the new plans?

▪ When were the three bidders informed about the changes?

▪ Why was the public not consulted?

Excerpt from city’s 2011 Business Plan & Preliminary Budgets (Dec. 2010)

Excerpt from Police Chief Clive Weighill’s Nov. 12, 2007, report to police board