DSSAB trying to keep office renovation costs down Town council petitioning to stop work

FORT FRANCES—The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board currently is $300,000 over-budget with renovations at its new office, but CAO Donna Dittaro said the board is working hard to get the numbers under control.
“Originally, the board had approved a budget of $1.2 million for that building and the estimated budget as of Nov. 23 was $1.5 million,” Dittaro said late Tuesday afternoon.
“But it’s not final yet,” she stressed. “There’s factors that have to be considered.
“One, the design drawings aren’t complete,” said Dittaro. “I’m talking major areas, such as the mechanical, which is your heating, ventilation, air-conditioning systems, still have to be addressed.
“And then there’s other areas, both in the interior and exterior, that we’re looking at to accrue cost-savings, as well,” she added. “As we speak, I have staff and the consultant at the building looking at some of the designs and what we can change.”
Dittaro said they’re even looking at salvaging materials like doors and doorknobs, and bathroom fixtures, to find cost-savings.
“That’s really the bottom line,” she remarked. “It’s like building a house. We can’t finalize a budget until the drawings are done, and you’ve really taken a look and said, ‘Okay, instead of chandeliers in my dining room, I’m just going to put in a regular light bulb.’
“We’re working really hard to get those costs down.”
But Fort Frances town council is petitioning DSSAB to stop renovations at its new office, located at 450 Scott St. (formerly Family and Children’s Services), after learning Monday night the work is $300,000 over-budget.
“I have some very disturbing news to report tonight and that is renovations to that building are over-budget,” Coun. Tannis Drysdale, who also is vice-chair of DSSAB, said at Monday night’s council meeting.
“As of Friday night [Nov. 24], there was at least a $300,000 overage,” she noted. “All tenders have not been received yet, so I can’t give an exact figure.”
Coun. Drysdale said this information came to her as a DSSAB member at their monthly board meeting held Nov. 16, but not before. As a result, at that Nov. 16 meeting, the board voted to shut down construction.
But the board then had a special meeting Friday night, at which time it voted in favour of resuming the work.
“I voted to continue to refrain from construction—to halt construction until such a time as real figures could be obtained and we could revise the plans,” Coun. Drysdale said.
“I was unsuccessful in encouraging the board to do that and construction continues. So we’re looking at approximately a $300,000 overage on this particular project,” she warned.
Coun. Drysdale said she would provide town council with a full report on the circumstances of the overage in the near future.
Coun. Roy Avis asked if the project was a “design build” (like the new Fort Frances High School, which kept on increasing in cost as more and more was added to the project) or “a project that gone out to tender has a fixed cost when it’s completed.”
“Your analogy to the high school is very appropriate because we’re seeing the same kind of results,” replied Coun. Drysdale. “That was one of the reasons why I felt it was best that we cease construction until we actually have full tenders and full specs on this particular project.
“As has been mentioned over and over in these chambers, decisions made in haste tend to be poor decisions and there’s a lot of things unknown with this particular building,” she added.
One example she gave was whether the building would have a single-phase or three-phase power system.
“All of these things have to be determined and yet construction continues. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that,” said Coun. Drysdale.
“But we have a certain amount of votes on the board and Friday night, our certain amount of votes were overcame by other people’s certain amounts of votes.”
Coun. Drysdale said the circumstances of the increased renovation costs were presented to the board after the board had very little opportunity to reduce them.
“Certainly, had these figures been presented to the board in October, the board may have had the opportunity to significantly change plans,” she remarked.
“[But] because they were presented in November, the board members that voted for the $300,000 increase did so because they felt no other options were available.
“I think other options are available.”
Coun. Avis suggested a resolution be introduced reflecting council’s support of Coun. Drysdale’s stance.
The resolution, which was passed by council Monday night, reads:
“As costs for the renovation of the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board building have exceeded the cost endorsed by the council of the Town of Fort Frances, be it hereby resolved that the Town of Fort Frances petition the RRDSSAB to halt construction on their building at 450 Scott St. until such time as they can obtain firm, fixed costs for the renovations.
“And that the Town of Fort Frances endorse the actions of their board member for the RRDSSAB in her vote to halt construction on Nov. 16, 2006 and vote against resuming construction on Nov. 24, 2006 without firm prices or the endorsement of the council of the Town of Fort Frances.”
“As you may recall, over the last few months, several options were put forth for the RRDSSAB building and I brought these options forward to this council, and we sat down and looked at them,” Coun. Drysdale said.
“And you endorsed an option of purchasing 450 Scott St. with a certain estimated renovation cost—as did all the other DSSAB members go back to their councils and endorse that,” she added.
“I thought it was a pretty gracious endorsement at the time and a generous renovation amount. Now, it’s exceeded that and I truly feel that allowing those costs to go over—and I’ll explain the circumstance in the report—was a breach of trust with you.
“You agreed to a certain amount and we’ve exceeded that,” noted Coun. Drysdale. “I don’t approve of that. But the buck has to stop somewhere, and with this council, it will stop with me.
“I apologize for spending that money that was not approved.”
Mayor Dan Onichuk noted Dittaro also should be asked to appear before council in the future to further explain the situation.
(Fort Frances Times)