BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A tough sell

The cost overrun for the track may impact looming referendums in Greater Vernon

It’s not the news cultural advocates or hockey players wanted to hear.

The Greater Vernon Advisory Committee recently announced that the athletic park next to Okanagan College is $790,000 over budget.

It’s completely a worst-case scenario for those residents who fought against borrowing $7 million for the track prior to a 2013 referendum. Not only did they question the need for the facility, they challenged the design and whether there would be enough cash to do everything proposed.

Those critics will be pointing their fingers at the $790,000 overrun and saying, “I told you so.”

And while the situation is unfortunate, it’s not completely surprising as a global demand for certain construction products can force up costs. The lucrative oil patch in northern Alberta also led to many skilled workers leaving town, creating a local shortage of sub-trades, which also impacted the track’s bottom line.

These are scenarios far out of the control of GVAC and even with financial contingencies in place, budgets can balloon.

The one aspect of the track that’s on shaky ground is the soil, quite literally.

In the northwest corner of the property, a pocket of clay was discovered and that meant the clay had to be removed and then the hole filled in before construction could begin.

“We did 10 (soil) test pits on the site and that was the one spot we didn’t check,” said Keith Pinkoski, parks planner.

That decision not to thoroughly investigate soil conditions will continue to draw criticism from residents upset at the apparent lack of due diligence. However, how many people have been told by a contractor that renovations to their home will be straight-forward, only to face a mounting bill when a wall is ripped down and once hidden problems are now exposed?

Now back to the earlier reference about culture and hockey players.

It’s anticipated there will be a spring referendum to twin Kal Tire Place and abandon Civic Arena as an ice sheet, while there are ongoing pressures to put plans for a new museum and art gallery before voters,

As valid and as necessary as these projects are, there will be residents who will only remember the additional cash that had to be pumped into the track and fear a repeat performance if a new arena is built or art gallery and museum are unveiled.

Will that anxiety resonate at the polls? Will any future capital works, including big-ticket upgrades to Greater Vernon’s water utility, be overshadowed by what happened next to the college?

Some residents may question the designs for these proposed facilities because of what is missing at the track — namely showers in the change rooms. How likely are they to hand tax dollars over to something they consider half-done?

Now as previously mentioned, cost overruns are not unusual with private or public projects,  and they certainly don’t indicate incompetence on the part of those involved in the process. Nor do they suggest that all capital works go over budget as many of them don’t, including the Performing Arts Centre and the existing Kal Tire Place.

But based on the $790,000 hurdle that’s surfaced at the track, GVAC, ice users and cultural organizations need to be aware of a potential public backlash.

They need to communicate openly with residents about the costs and design plans for future facilities, and be completely up front if something goes wrong.