How to design a camel

Posted March 29, 2013

Yet another bombshell was dropped at the multi-million dollar civil trial between Urbacon Building Group, contractor of the new city hall and the City of Guelph.

City Engineer Murray McCrae testified the decision to fire Urbacon for failure to meet a completion deadline was not made by one person. Instead, he named Mayor Karen Farbridge, former Chief Administration Officer (CAO) Hans Loewig, now retired solicitor Lois Payne, and some unnamed members of council who were involved in the decision.

Obviously, the buck had to stop with Mayor Farbridge.

The city was determined to occupy the new city hall in September 2008. McCrae testified the costs of storage, moving and expiring building leases could see the city losing $15,000 a day.

Another reason given was that Urbacon would take another nine months to renovate the old city hall into a provincial court house. This project was part of the original contract.

Let’s see if we get this straight.

The new city hall was 95 per cent complete. Urbacon has stated that another 60 days would finish the job. Urbacon lawyer Marco Drudi commented that “a two month delay on a two year job is inconsequential.”

Drudi told the court that CAO Loewig sent an email to Urbacon which said he was ”hopeful” that the city would be able to move into the new city hall by early 2009.

The CAO went on to state: “Like you, I’m frustrated but the setback is far from monumental and we have to keep in mind that we are building a long-term legacy and the delays are inconsequential.”

So, who pulled the plug and tossed Urbacon off the job? With the exception of McCrae, of those persons he identified as participating in the decision, one had to make the final decision.

It had to be the Mayor, the top elected official of the city. Who else was qualified? To top it off, none of those named has been called as witnesses in the trial.

The irony is that the city hired Burlington-based Alberici Construction limited to finish the job. That cost or its deadline has never been revealed.

Did the city ever experience losses of $15,000 a day as McCrae testified because of its actions to fire Urbacon before the project was completed? The city’s costs of this nine-week trial will eclipse that predicted loss.

This is another unanswered question for the taxpayers to ponder.

From the day Mayor Farbridge and her 10 supporting councillors took office, this project was doomed. Not only were the changes many but some fundamentally changed the whole project including the decision to upgrade the environmental standards of the building.

The city argued that they sent “change directives” to the contractor that created delays and increased frustration levels. When does a “change directive” become a “change order”?

Two events come to mind. One was the $100,000 retrofit of the green roof demanded by the city. The other was removal of the sound deadening materials throughout the building to save $1 million.

It reminds one of putting seven people in a boardroom to design a horse and they end up with a camel.

It is yet another example of mismanagement by the Farbridge administration.

They are, indeed the gang that can’t shoot straight.

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6 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

6 responses to “How to design a camel

  1. jpphelan55@hotmail.com

    Someone needs to shoot striaght!!!!! and put an end to the nonsense at city hall….they shoot horses don’t they?

  2. Gerry, you’ve raised good questions/issues here!! 1) what WERE the real costs to the project relating to the firing, from the change in builder and the delays caused by the firing; 2) what ARE the real costs associated with the legal back and forth to date between the City and the other parties since the firing, in the slow and expensive march to trial, for any hired legal guns and consultants, and in terms of staff’s time and attention from other issues, and; 3) what WILL BE the legal costs associated with the legal as part of the judgement; 4) what if any advancement in the completion date was achieved in the firing — latest testimony suggests there may not have been any.

    • Craig Chamberlain: Excellent points! I sense that there has been a lot of political theatrics involving this star-crossed project. I agree the firing was the result of wanting the toy finished. Your point about the cost of completing the project has yet to be revealed. One thing I can tell you that some of the washrooms have no doors. So, maybe it’s still work in progress.I do not have the actual figures pertaining to the number of legal disputes this administration has encountered in the past six years, but I’m betting it exceeds any previous administration. The most recent report released last September stated there were 13 active legal cases, some 19 Ontario Municipal Board disputes and a number of liability claims that would be covered by insurance but must still be litigated. Some of these can result in huge costs to the taxpayers. An update is due every six months which is just about now.

  3. Gerry, actually, one more question that has been bothering me, something that I think we’re circling around… I’ve been following the reporting on the testimony and it’s left me wondering if there is an edge of… let’s call it political motivation in getting the building completed as well — and it wasn’t happening fast enough to show it off in the way they wanted to.

    • Craig Chamberlain: Of all people, former Chief Administration Officer Hans Loewig sent an email to Urbacon stating: “Like you,I’m frustrated, but the setback is far from monumental and we have to keep in mind that we are building a long-term legacy and the delays are inconsequential.” Loewig was also hopeful that the city would move into the new building by early 2009. Does that sound like the contractor should be fired September 19, 2008? Only one other person in the administration could make the decision to fire Urbacon, Mayor Karen Farbridge. She obviously did not agree with her CAO.

  4. Gerry, you are right on with the six-month timing of the next report. It was part of the attachment to the agenda for Council’s meeting last Monday (Mar. 25, 2013). The Litigation Status Report starts on Page 403. I suspect you’ll find the new “capacity issues” mentioned in the staff report interesting.

    Here it is:
    http://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/council_agenda_0325131.pdf

    Cheers!

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