By John Swartz
Orillia will be getting a new $3.1 million park in the West Ridge. The park was originally approved at budget earlier this year, but for $2.9 million. The lowest tender (Pine Valley Corporation of Maple, Ontario) was for $3.050,870, so staff made a report outlining why tenders were higher and steps they took to remove $65,000 of cost.
That total came to $2,985,000, $100,000 has already been spent on design, resulting is the request for an additional $190,090.
Tacked onto the report was an option for council to also include a splash pad and a covered pavilion at an additional $148,000.
“Is there synergy in having the contractor doing these two pieces coincident with the park as opposed to subsequently?” councillor Ted Emond asked.
Staff said there likely would be some saving by adding the extra two items now because ordering materials might be cheaper and not having the construction crews and equipment back at a later date would save money.
“I know when we were doing Victoria Park and we decided to spend additional money to do the concrete walkway, as opposed to doing the asphalt, because we recognized spending the money now and doing the job right had a long-term benefit. I think this is a similar situation. If we’re going to do it and we’re going to spend this kind of money on a park, my view is let’s do it to the level that is appropriate, assuming, Mr. Treasurer, that an additional sum isn’t going to break the bank,” said Emond.
Mayor Steve Clarke was uneasy with including new items into the mix.
“I certainly understand doing something once and doing it right. One thing I am uncomfortable with is contemplating budget items, or significant budget items, outside of the budget process,” said Clarke.
“If staff are relatively sure this is something they would recommend strongly going forward and we would construct these two other items at some point, then I understand the potential of taking advantage the construction contingency,” he said. He also questioned why re-tendering wasn’t an option.
“We have another project in West Orillia, I believe it’s coming up probably at the end of the month for discussion at this table, and I believe it’s the budget for servicing the employment lands we recently acquired in West Orillia, (which) came in significantly over budget, so the suggestion from staff was to re-tender at a different time of year” said Clarke. “I see in this report, if we do re-tender it’s unlikely to result in significant cost savings. I’m just curious why potentially the other item being discussed in a week or two there is that potential.”
The parks recreation and culture director, Ray Merkley, said there was a discussion about re-tendering.
“We did have discussion with both our consultant and our contractor and they didn’t feel like it was a tiny issue from their perspective for what the price was. It was based on the components that were in it. It is always a risk when you go out at different times of the year,” Merkley said. He also pointed out, more than once, the extra splash pad and pavilion were not part of the core plan for the park, or part of the tender, but extra items council might want to include.
“We still believe it’s going to be a magnificent park without those features. They were just put in that project if we could have, but because of budget constraints we are recommending the base award of the project,” Merkley said.
The park will be located on Orion Blvd between Monarch and Annalyse Drives and is similar in size to the nearby 7 acre Clayt French Park and abutting 9 acre West Ridge Park (majority woodlot with trails). Unlike Clayt French park, the new one will not have a dog run, but has other similar features.
Several councillors, lead by Mason Ainsworth, were in favour of including the extra items. Councillor Tim Lauer favored the splash pad, but not the pavilion, which is called a shade structure in the report.
“In this case I think it’s a solvable problem in other ways. We’re talking about shade and it was mentioned eventually the trees will do that. I think a strategy of increasing the size of the trees we are planting currently… maybe with a little juggling of the budget we could increase the size of the trees we are planting in that area,” said Lauer. He also had another concern.
“Is this park actually named West Park, or are we waiting to name that?” he asked. Merkley said that was a working title and council could name it or send it to the recreation advisory committee (which became part of the final motion).
“Just for the record, I am not in favour of the name West Orillia Park. I think we can be much more creative than that. I think we’ve got have a preoccupation with the word west in this town,” said Lauer. Councillor Ted Emond was quick to jump in with an observation.
“We set a tremendous precedent in West Orillia of naming parks after former mayors,” he said to a smattering of laughter and groans.
How It Ended Up
After a brief recess to allow staff to rewrite the motion to include the extra items, the final bill came to $3,133,190. Clarke was not happy the pavilion was added.
“With the questions I posed earlier to staff, the extra $80,000 will probably add a visual enhancement to the park and maybe even give us a longer term structure, I’m not sure it offsets the $80,000 because as well it will only give us 20% additional shade. I’m afraid I can’t support that at this time,” Clarke said.
Councillor Ralph Cipolla asked if the construction contingency (included in the full amount) was not used during construction, could the extra items be included at that point, rather than increase the budget now.
“It would be a challenge once they started their park work to switch courses and do something like that,” said Merkley. He also said any unspent budget would be allocated to a reserve at the end of the project. This prompted an observation from Emond about the process of budgeting.
“The rigidness of our budget process which only allows us to add things of significance once a year is, I think, constraining us in our opportunity to take advantage of things as they come along. I’m not advocating greater, or less, scrutiny of what we are doing, but I guess I’m appealing for when we get into the budget process that maybe we need more contingency money allocated at that time to deal with the unforeseen kinds of things that are occurring,” said Emond. He cited the Soldier’s economic impact study dealt with earlier in the meeting as an example of something that didn’t even exist as an issue at budget council had to allocate money for after agreeing to do the study.
“I think we need to find ways to be more a little more flexible on these kinds of things,” Emond said.
The motion passed as is and council’s decision is on the regular council meeting agenda next Monday evening for ratification.