By Mike Williscraft
A notice of motion at Grimsby council to have the new Niagara West super school cost overruns investigated and for District School Board of Niagara investigate alternatives to keep current high schools open was voted down Monday.
Coun. Dave Sharpe brought the notion of motion forward due to concerns with the process to date, what he believes are low-balled cost-estimates and an overall concern about whether there was a need for the new-school option at all.
Sharpe, a construction estimator by trade, went into a detailed outline of why he is confident the current cost estimate to build the new school – $42.4 million – is out of whack.
Since it has been learned the initial $5 million for site acquisition and preparation for the Hwy. 8 site near Durham Road ballooned to a $17.4 million spend to remove contaminated soil, considerable attention has been paid to the project.
Sharpe, who said the only way to keep costs close to the original estimate would be to reduce square footage and/or cut features from the build.
While there was considerable concern regarding the project throughout council, some wondered if they should should set foot into DSBN territory.
“I don’t know if that is our role to investigate,” said Coun. Dorothy Bothwell, who noted it would be like the DSBN telling asking council why the biodigester went over budget or, “what did you do with NRBN (the fibre optics company sold off to pay for biodigester cost overruns).”
Others simply said the process was too far down the road to have anyone do anything about it.
Coun. Randy Vaine, who supported Sharpe’s motion said the horse isn’t just out of the barn, “the horse is halfway across the planet. I will support it, but I think it is too far gone.”
Coun. John Dunstall outlined several points he said he had learned from current Grimsby Secondary School principal Mat Miller, some of which did not match up with information provided by DSBN’s chief communications officer.
Among the points:
• The remediation costs did go over to the tune of $17 million. (DSBN documents show the cost was $17.4 million with another $3.3 million still to spend);
• The provincial government was aware of the situation, namely the Ministry of the Environment, (the Ministry of Education, which the DSBN reports to, was not aware, did not approve the overrun and required permission to use the Proceeds of Disposition fund to pay for the overrun was never sought – resulting in a reprimand from the deputy minister of education), among other issues.
It was also mentioned that the proposed theatre would be an asset to the arts. The theatre has already been cut from the construction plan due to fundraising shortfalls.