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The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The St. James Firehall stonewall crumbles under the facts


Drop dead, said the City to Colin Craig.

Oh, not so succinctly. But the message was clear---beat it, get lost, scram.
It took less than a dozen words to slam the door in Craig's face, lock it, bolt it, and hope he went away.
Craig, you see, is the local director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. And more than a year ago, he politely asked the City for briefing notes, memos, emails and any other documentation they had regarding the process by which Winnipeg's new Fire Hall No. 11 ballooned in size to it's present corpulent state.

Not that it's gargantuan in the way the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is -- four football fields of empty space enclosed within a steel and concrete skeleton. But it is almost half again as big as the other three firehalls built as part of the same infrastructure replacement program.

And Fire Hall No. 11 is the fishiest project of the entire Sheegl-Shindico Bid-Rigging Scandal that's consumed the public's trust in City Hall. Built without a contract, millions of dollars over budget, so big that nobody knew what to do with the extra space, it piqued the interest of the Taxpayers Federation. Hence the freedom of information request.

The city replied: "In this case the records you have requested do not exist."

That, in a word, is preposterous.

If the documentation is there, then Colin Craig is being stonewalled by a city administration that's hiding something far bigger than anybody has imagined so far.

If the documentation is not there, that means somebody has swept the records clean, wiped his fingerprints off and skipped,
confident that the city administrators will make no efforts to recover what they don't want anybody to see, anyway.

Didn't we say it's time to call in the cops?

We scoured the Ernst-and-Young audit of the firehalls fiasco, as well as our clippings file, for clues to what the City of Winnipeg administrators are hiding.

We uncovered the exact time period that should be flooded with the  documentation the Taxpayers Federation is looking for.
 

Why the city administration claims they can't find a thing becomes very, very suspicious.

*  In 2009 the Winnipeg Fire Department got the okay to build four new fire stations.  They went looking for a suitable design.

They found one in London, Ontario, and in January 2010 they signed a contract to use the design. But already there was distinction between the three firehalls they intended to build in Winnipeg suburbs and the one station going up in St. James.

*  The City issued a tender for fire stations based on the Ontario design. It was amended in March, 2010:
B2.1 The Request for Proposals (RFP) contained herein documents the City of Winnipeg’s (City) invitation to organizations (Bidders) to present Proposals in accordance with the requirements identified in this RFP for the development of up to four (4) newly developed Fire Paramedic Stations (“the Project” or “WFPS Station”) for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS).

Specifically, the City is requesting submissions from private sector firms, individually or in consortium, for:
(a) construction (inclusive of site work) Sections A and B; and/or
(b) design, and construction (inclusive of site work) Section C;
of up to four (4) 750-930 square metre (8,000-10,000 square foot) facilities for the purpose of providing fire and paramedic service operations.
 
“SECTION A.
One Suburban Fire Paramedic Station in the Vicinity of 5000 Roblin Boulevard
SECTION B.
Two Suburban Fire Paramedic Stations
- one in the vicinity of Grant Avenue and Waverley Street; and
- one in the vicinity of Bishop Grandin Boulevard and Lagimodiere Boulevard
SECTION C.
One Core Fire Paramedic Station in the vicinity of Portage Avenue and Berry Street

As the auditors noted:
"Within less than a month of issuing the...RFP, the City issued amendments ... that called for the construction of 3 suburban stations based on the M&M design and the design and construction of an urban station Portage – Station #11."

In short, the suburban stations would be built on the Ontario design while Fire Station #11 would be designed separately.

*  June, 2010.  Only Shindico bid on the tender, and their bid was way too high.  Shindico said that the Ontario design could not be built on the Winnipeg budget, but that they had a design of their own that could. 

Regarding Fire Station #11, here's how the auditors reported Shindico's position:
"With respect to the core or urban station... the response from Shindico stated:
“To replace the firehall located at Portage Avenue and Berry Street, Shindico’s proposing the new Fire Paramedic Station be incorporated into the green space located immediately adjacent to the west side of the southbound lane of Route 90 on the north side of Portage Avenue. The property is owned by the City of Winnipeg. .......The Cost to develop the Core Station on Portage Avenue is
$5,991,500 or $518.11 per square foot ....The Core Station is more complex than the Suburban Stations” Based on this statement the design for the Core station, as proposed by Shindico, was to be 11,564 square ft ."
 
The size of the St. James firehall was already growing.  The auditors note that this was before the city saw any design incorporating a hazmat unit (or fire museum). 

* The auditors continued to document the decisions regarding Station No. 11:
 
June 28, 2010
Material Management and WFPS decide to move forward with Shindico regarding development of their concepts for Portage Station # 11. (MC#17) Suburban stations are expected to be subject to public tender.

September 2, 2010
... Shindico notifies Chief WFPS, via email, that they are working on an alternative station design for suburban stations, based on a request from the City. Email notes Shindico’s belief that M&M design can’t be done for City’s budget . Chief WFPS cautions regarding this approach, but gives go ahead regarding
Station #11. Email exchange is forwarded to CAO by Shindico.
 
September 3, 2010
The Current Chief WFPS responded to (Shindico) indicating: I am only able to legally negotiate on the specification that was put out to all the bidders. That specification is the Murphy and Murphy specification for the 3 suburban fire paramedic stations. To do anything else at this time puts the city in a position of serious risk from the other bidders.
Station 11 is a different animal as it had not (sic) accompanying design and falls under its own category of negotiation. That is certainly open to further discussion.
I would suggest Bob that before your company expends a lot of time and energy designing a new building, we resolve some of these issues first.
Lets go full steam ahead on the 11 Station project though. I will meet with materials management on Tuesday to begin phase 2 of that process and let you know the result.
 
*  Here's where the St. James firehall story gains traction. This story appeared in The Metro, one of Canstar's weeklies:
 
Talk of new fire hall location heating up
Fire department eyeing spot near Route 90 for Berry St. replacement, deputy chief says

By: Matt Preprost  Posted: 03/23/2011 3:34 AM   March 23, 2011
Fire official are eyeing a two-acre plot of land at Portage Avenue and Century Street for the relocation of Station No. 11 on Berry Street.
 
The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is hoping to build a new fire and paramedic station and fire museum inside the cloverleaf just west of Century Street, Reid Douglas, the services deputy chief, confirmed in an interview.
 
The plan is not yet finalized, and needs to go through several civic committees and public consultation before being approved, Douglas said.
snip

If all goes to plan, a new $4 million, 12,000 sq. ft. station will be built in the northwest corner of the cloverleaf next to the St. James Hotel.
 
It's March, 2011.  This is the first time there's any talk about a fire museum.  And note the size of the station---12,000 sq. ft.  That's probably a rounding-up of the 11,564 sq. ft. of Shindico's station design. 

But this time round it's more than just the cost of the "core station"; it includes a museum.  Was that always the intent? Surely there must be some documentation explaining if it was.

*  In June, 2011, the city hired Williams Engineering to track the progress of the firehalls project.
 
July 7, 2011
 “Meeting of Progress Minutes” # 2 indicated that by July 7, 2011 the design to Portage - Station #11 was 90% complete.
 
October 14, 2011
William’s MPM of this date indicates that the cost estimate for Portage - Station#11 is $5.1 Million. 

Oct. 19, 2011   The City issues a foundation permit for Station #11.

January 27, 2012
The construction of Portage Station was awarded
based on two contracts. One contract for the foundation and one for the completion of the building. The commencement of the construction of Portage Station # 11 with a foundation only contract, effectively bound the City to the construction of a station with the size and resulting cost that was not within the approved Council approved budget.
 
February 6, 2012
 A meeting was held between Legal Services, the MRE, the Current Chief WFPS and the WFPS Project Coordinator. During the meeting the following was discussed:
► The builder, Pre-Con was going bankrupt and needed payment for the Taylor property.
► There was an understanding that the proposed land exchange transferred excess value to Shindico. Such excess value was to be dealt with via a price reduction on Portage Station #11.
 
February 23, 2012
William’s issued a(n) MPM which included a new cost estimate from Shindico for Portage - Station #11, at $5.7 million before signage and permits.
 
*  April 26, 2012
The Current COO and CFO approved the foundation only contract for Portage -Station #11.
 
July 7,  2012
 
The Metro
Fire hall changes irk residents
By: Matt Preprost    07/18/2012 1:02 AM

Recent changes to the site plan of the new Station No. 11 fire hall in St. James has left a ringing in the ears of nearby residents.
Last week, city fire chief Reid Douglas and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service project manager Christine Friesen appeared before the Assiniboia community committee seeking approval to move the location of the station from the back end of the property near Century Street up to the front of the site near Portage Avenue.
The committee approved the changes following a two-hour public hearing, a move city officials say will increase visibility of the station, improve traffic sight lines and reduce the overall footprint of the station by about 600 square feet.

At the beginning of the hearing, a lawyer for the Viscount Gort Hotel argued the station’s construction was "unlawful" and it is being built without provincial approval.

Richard Good said Viscount owner Phillip Kives was not consulted, and the hotel could suffer a loss of revenue and reputation as a result of the decision.

The city proceeded with undue haste, Good said, calling for construction to be stopped until there was further consultation.

Coun. Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) noted the WFPS held a public consultation about the station at the Viscount Gort in July 2011.

He also noted a letter sent by the hotel to the community about the hearing misled residents into believing the station was expanding in size and taking up more greenspace inside the cloverleaf when the opposite was true.
 
*  Fielding was 100 percent wrong. The station WAS expanding in size. He's since claimed somebody lied to him.  He's not named that "somebody."
 
*  The following month, August, 2012, the entire firehalls fiasco started to unravel.
CBC reporter Sean Kavanagh stumbled across Shindico floating a lease on the old St. James firehall, which was still owned by the city. That led to the revelation of a land swap with Shindico which had never been approved by city councillors and the fact that one firehall was now built on land the city did not own -- land owned by Shindico.
 
August 30, 2012
A meeting was held in the Current CAO’s office, where apparently the MMM informed the Current Chief WFPS that the WFPS were building the Portage Avenue station without proper award authorities in place.
 
The auditors elsewhere clarified that bafflegab in their report:

"It is unclear as to the point in time that the CAO (Phil Sheegl), COO (Deepak Joshi) and Legal Services were aware that Portage - Station #11 was being constructed without a contract and/or appropriate contract award authorities in place. MM, the CAO (Phil Sheegl), CFO and COO (Deepak Joshi)  were aware a contract was not in place by the end of August 2012 based on the content of the following email from the MMM:
 
For everyone’s sake and peace of mind, we need to determine the approvals that are in place, or not, for these Fire Stations.
This topic was briefly discussed at the CAO’s office today, but it is clear that the City is well underway building at least one $6 million dollar station with approval for only <$1 million."
 
*  To sum up, the budget was blown.  The city administration had the bright idea of spending the little bit that was left to dig the foundation for Fire Station No. 11, and to ask City Council for more money to finish the project the following year ( 2013).  In the meantime, Shindico would continue construction with the promise it would get paid.

The auditors observed:
 
► In respect to Portage - Station #11 contracting, we have been informed by both Williams and Legal Services that one of the reasons the contract was split into two components, the foundation and the remainder of the building, was because sufficient Council approved funding was not available to allow for an
award for the full value of construction costs. This would be against City Policy.

But note this odd -- and unexplained -- reference the following month:

September 19, 2012 
Corporate Finance sent email to CFO indicating:

Mike, here is an updated draft of the report. This considers the information provided in the spreadsheet and the information provided by Reid by way of email and meeting earlier today. It is a moving target - from what Reid is now saying, the budget for the three suburban stations construction was too low - he references $2 to $2.4 million in his email, based on the St. Thomas experience. Assuming he budgeted $2.2 million for these stations, the overall budget of $15.34 million works. This would also be supported by the fact at the same time, the City had received responses back from Shindico on 200-2009B that the buildings could be delivered for $275 per square foot ($6.1 million total). As the stations actually came in at, on average, $3.1 million each, that puts the budget $2.8 million shor
t.
 
...-what were the redesign efforts on 11 that took place to save $1.2 million?

* Here's where the trail of the change order for Station No. 11 gets hazy, in large part because there was no contract for its construction so nobody really knew what Shindico was building -- except Shindico.

Then-Fire Chief Reid Douglas told the auditors that the original design with the museum was rejected by Public Works as a traffic distraction.  When was that? Is there no documentation, especially since Douglas went on to state: 

Chief WFPS’s Comments Regarding Review of Ernst & Young Draft Report Dated September 5, 2013
"It was assumed the sq. ft. of museum elimination would translate to a 4th bay.  This requires additional accomodation in crew space as well thus increasing overall 3000 sf for apparatus bay and living space"

Here, definitely, is discussion of increasing the size of Fire Station No. 11.  This would require a change order.  Where are the emails, the memos, the documentation surrounding this discussion?
 
The auditors then complicated the story with this comment:

► The sizing of Portage - Station #11 did change significantly as a result of WFPS eliminating the museum component and adding space for the Hazmat unit. The original RFP specified a station of approximately 10,000 sq. ft. To meet the specification requested in the original RFP, Shindico’s response included a
station design that was 11,564 sq. ft. The final design for Portage - Station #11 was 14,459 sq. ft
.
 
Here is the first reference to a firehall that's 14,459 sq. ft. large. It's gone through two design changes, and city officials say there's no paperwork anywhere that discusses how and when the final size was reached.
 
And the mention of a Hazmat unit is new.  Once the museum was kiboshed, they obviously didn't know what to do with the space. So they began running with various ideas.  First was moving the Hazmat unit from St. Boniface into Station #11.
 
No way, declared United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest.

That idea was junked.  But the firehall was being built 3000 square feet bigger and something had to fill all that extra space.
 
By early October, 2012, we learned it would be the Hazmat unit from the Maples.
 
And one other thing got tossed along with the St. Boniface Hazmat--- the Fire Chief.  Reid Douglas was out of a job.
 
No sooner was his departure announced, than COO Deepak Joshi jumped to blame him for the debacle.
 
Chief thought bigger station would cost same
By: Bartley Kives    Posted: 10/26/2012 1:00 AM

FIRE Paramedic Chief Reid Douglas had the authority to supersize the new Station No. 11 because he believed he could add 33 per cent more space to the Portage Avenue structure without going over budget.



Winnipeg chief operations officer Deepak Joshi said Douglas had the authority to go ahead with the change because the chief believed the extra work could be done without exceeding his budget.

"He felt it was the right thing to do at the time," said Joshi, explaining the new station was still being designed after its concrete foundation was poured. There was no reason for the chief to believe his change order would result in such a cost increase, based on the information at his disposal, he added.
 
Joshi believed in October, 2012, that there was a change order. 
 
Today he says there's no record anywhere

We repeat, preposterous.
 
The city administration can start looking between March, 2011, when the Fire Chief said the new St. James station would be 12,000 square feet and July, 2011, when Williams Engineering reported that the design for the station was 90 percent complete. 

Somewhere there they'll find internal documentation discussing the scrapping of a museum, what to do with the extra space, the need for another 3000 square feet if a hazardous materials unit is to be shoehorned into the building.
 
The declaration that they can't find a single note, email, or document must be seen as part of the internal cover-up.

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