Town calling for auditorium audit

The hunt is on for someone to review what the town is going to be paying for the auditorium project at Westfort because councillors aren’t satisfied with how much the cost has jumped from what they thought was the original estimate–nor the answers they’re getting as to why.
At its regular meeting Monday night, council directed administration to find out how much the town would have to pay to have an audit done on its portion of the “multi-use” project.
And Mayor Glenn Witherspoon wanted to know that if the town said it would only pay for the auditorium costs and its portion of the roads, would it come in at 12 percent of the total cost of the project?
John McLeod, acting director of the Rainy River District School Board, welcomed the audit, noting on a per square footage cost, the auditorium was the most expensive because it had more steel and technical requirements.
He also felt an audit would show the town’s amount actually would be higher if it was strictly paying for the auditorium–not a percentage of the whole “multi-use” project.
“I would guarantee that,” he said this morning.
Coun. Roy Avis felt council owed it to Fort Frances ratepayers to pursue an audit.
“I believe that we do not have anyone out there to look after our interests,” he argued, noting he didn’t agree that the town should be covering 12 percent of the “multi-use” project’s costs.
“They cut the seats but we’re paying 12 percent of the lockers in the school,” he noted.
“I was a little dumbfounded when I got to the meeting and was told that we were going to pay 12 percent of the total project,” echoed Coun. Deane Cunningham. “I believe we should be paying the actual construction costs [for the auditorium].”
Community Services manager George Bell agreed, adding he was assured since day one that the town was not paying for changes in the scope of the school project.
Coun. Dave Bourgeault noted the original contract stated the town would pay the $2.3-million net construction costs of the facility, less senior government funding, and less the contribution from the community auditorium group.
But he argued that would only give the town the outside structure of the theatre, not the furnishings–such as seats and lighting–inside.
“Net construction costs to me was the project. It isn’t,” he charged, arguing on top of that, the town had to pay for other items such as lighting, architect’s fees, and seating, which Mayor Witherspoon noted brought the auditorium to $3.4 million.
“I’d like to know who drew up the contract,” Coun. Sharon Tibbs said, adding she wanted to look at it and see if the town “had some teeth” when it came to capital costs.
But Don Lovisa, local campus manager of Confederation College, and McLeod agreed at one point in the project, the three parties (the public school board, college, and town) agreed to pay certain percentages of the total “multi-use” project that would reasonably reflect the costs of their portions.
The college was paying nine percent, the school board 79 percent, and the town 12 percent.
Lovisa noted that meant the board was paying 79 percent of the college while the college was paying nine percent of the school. And the town was paying for 12 percent of both the college and the school.
“Just like the school board is paying for 79 percent of the theatre seats and the college is paying for nine percent,” he added.
McLeod noted that was all a verbal agreement. “There was no signed agreement [on that],” he admitted.
But the town knew nothing of a percentage agreement, and Coun. Tibbs said she wanted to have a look at the contract.
“We have never had an agreement on percentages,” Coun. Cunningham stressed Monday.
“No, we have not. We have agreed to dollars,” agreed Bell, noting the college signed a percentage agreement with the school board.
“We have a written response [of the contract] to review on file,” Clerk Glenn Treftlin said, noting that was from the town’s solicitor.
But McLeod warned if the town only wanted to pay the $2.3 million, then the project would just stop when those dollars were spent.
Meanwhile, Lovisa was confident the college’s interests in the project were being looked after, with staff working with the architects on the site.
“They’re architectural people by trade,” Lovisa said, adding with 99 percent of the tenders in, he was satisfied the college’s portion would come in at the $2 million it allotted.