Wednesday, April 13, 2016


by Richard Rolke - Vernon Morning Star posted Apr 13, 2016 at 1:00 AM
I watch a lot of stuff on HGTV — Fixer Upper, Flip or Flop, Income Property and every incarnation of Mike Holmes. Given that I can barely hang a picture myself, I am always amazed at the seemingly natural ability these folks have to fix things. But even more surprising are the situations that can suddenly arise, throwing a monkey wrench into all of your plans. Rip open a wall and find termites, ancient wiring or duct work leading nowhere. The crawl space may show rot or a foundation with more cracks than the Republican Party. None of these things were found during the home inspection but you are now the proud owner of the mess, so you have to dig deep and move on. These reality TV scenarios came to mind after the Regional District of North Okanagan revealed that while $7.5 million was borrowed to construct the Greater Vernon Athletics Park, the final price tag came in at $8.5 million. One of the apparent reasons for the overrun was lurking under the ground. “There were areas of clay soils found that hadn’t been identified in the geotechnical analysis, resulting in a greater volume of excavation and ultimately higher costs,” said Stephen Banmen, RDNO’s general manager of finance. Yes drill holes were initially sunk to investigate soil conditions, but unless you turn the property into Swiss cheese, you are really taking a guess on what is under foot. The quality of soil can vary within a few feet. Uncertainty also arose when the 2012 cost estimates didn’t reflect what was actually happening during the tender stage and construction. The price of materials, such as concrete, can go up and down depending on regional and global trends, while the availability of building trades can also impact the bottom line. It’s a scenario that’s not unique to the athletics park. If there was one screw up, though, it was not including showers right from the get-go, particularly because we all know that athletes can be rather aromatic after doing their thing. Adding showers at the last minute not only impacted the budget, but it undermined public faith in the planning process. Juliette Cunningham, Greater Vernon Advisory Committee chairperson, says lessons will be learned from the track overruns. Fair enough, but it’s difficult to know what should happen. Possibly RDNO could ensure a project’s budget has sufficient contingency funds to absorb unexpected expenditures. The other option is that when asking the public to borrow funds, be up front that overruns are possible and provide a clear strategy for handling the extra bills. What didn’t help last week was some politicians claiming that residents were only asked to borrow $7.5 million and that didn’t reflect the total project cost. Such revisionist history is insulting to taxpayers, particularly given that pre-referendum propaganda didn’t suggest the $7.5 million was simply a down payment on the final price tag. But finances aside, we must consider the end-result. The athletics park is an extremely busy place and it will serve the needs of an active community for decades to come.

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