Auditorium questions still unanswered

Fort Frances town councillors still don’t have any answers regarding the rising bill on the auditorium project after a last-minute phone call changed plans to meet with their “multi-use” partners yesterday afternoon.
Councillors had planned to meet with the local public school board and Confederation College at 2 p.m. But Coun. Sharon Tibbs noted the “multi-use” steering committee was meeting with the mechanical and electrical reps yesterday so councillors were told it wouldn’t be a good chance to sit down and discuss the escalating auditorium costs.
But she stressed a meeting would take place–and soon.
“We will do it. The questions are still there. At some point, we’re going to have to sit down and talk about it,” she noted. “[But] we’re there to get answers, not to cause confrontation with the board.”
Council isn’t the only one with questions. John Dutton, chairman of the community auditorium committee, said there was worry things may not be included in the project because the price had gone up.
“I’d like to get some answers, the same as council,” he said yesterday, adding he hoped to get some at a meeting with C.A. Ventin architect John Croker today.
That meeting is to go over the tender packages for sound and equipment in the auditorium.
“I think we need someone looking out for the interests of the town,” Dutton noted.
School board chairman Gord McBride admitted he didn’t have the answers, adding he hoped to find out more at next Tuesday’s board meeting.
At its regular meeting Monday night, council received a report from Community Services manager George Bell projecting the latest cost estimates on the auditorium at $3.1 million.
“My interpretation of the final numbers is different from Daoust’s,” Bell told the committee of the whole, noting the construction company felt the final bill would come in at $3.4 million.
But that’s more than double the amount the town originally planned to spend on the project. It’s initial commitment was $1.5 million, with the auditorium group pledging another $500,000.
(Since then, the town upped its share to $1.8 million less any senior government funding, with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund recently kicking in $1.25 million. The auditorium group is coming up with $570,000).
Bell also said he had some questions about theatre seating, which had been part of the base building cost in the past but now is showing as an additional item.
Meanwhile, the latest price tag has councillors wondering about if an audit should be conducted. But Coun. Tibbs hoped the town would be able to get answers from the board, with whom the town has a contract, and those directly involved with the project.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying I want it explained to me,” she said. “[And] if I’m not satisfied with the answer, then I want someone else to do it.”
Neither John McLeod, interim director of education for the public school board, nor Murray Quinn, who is supervising the “multi-use” project for the board, could be reached for comment.