Columbia Washington project takes a quarter million dollar step forward

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
April 7th, 2011

Following more information from city staff and a special council meeting this past Monday, council has authorized staff to contract with ISL Engineering and Land to provide engineering services for the first and the second phases of the Columbia Ave and Washington Street rebuild project. While council unanimously endorsed the motion, several councillors still took issue with the process the City went through that recommended ISL. However, with authorization now in place the initial stages of this major project will soon get underway.

The first phase, budgeted for between $50,000 and $75,000, will involve a study by ISL that will come up with a number of options for how the City can go about upgrading the infrastructure below the two streets.
“The preliminary design is looking at other options other than doing exactly what was done 50 – 100 years ago,” explained CAO Victor Kumar. “First we‘re going to look at what other options potentially are there. Do we have to dig up Columbia Avenue and Washington, or is there another way of doing it? Then they’ll come up with some options for us to look at. If there are other options, then we’ll look at them and give them further instructions.”
The City will be meeting with ISL shortly to determine the scope of the work to be undertaken. As a budget management tool ISL will have to come back to the city when they are 25% complete and again at 50% complete for the city to approve continuation of the project.
The contract authorized with ISL for phase one and two of the work was for $300,000 in total; however there are controls in place at several stage of the project that could result in the entire contract not being completed.
The $300,000 figure caused confusion for some council members. Back on February 14th council approved the motion to authorize up to $250,000 for the first phase of engineering and design work on the project. That $250,000 is the cash the city is approved to spend on the total budget for the project of up to $300,000.
Following the completion of the initial study sometime in late spring, the City will be faced with the choice of moving on with the design phase or walking away from the project. Should the city continue on, the rest of the $250,000 cost will be spent over the course of the summer to allow ISL to come up with a full design plan for the project.
If undertaken the design phase should be complete by mid-September. At that point the City will have a clearer picture of the project’s scope and cost.
“They will give us a report on what the project will be and what the cost for the project is going to be. If it’s four million dollars it would be looking good. If it’s six million okay, maybe. If it’s ten million, then we have to make some serious decisions,” added Kumar.
One of the key factors in driving the city’s timeline on the project is the separate timeline set by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for their planned paving project of Columbia Avenue. The City hopes to take advantage of synergies offered by completing their underground infrastructure work prior to the repaving. In order to have the underground work completed in time, the City must have the contract for the work in place by February of 2012.
Should the City decide to go ahead based on the design plan submitted by ISL in September 2011 they would then have to put the project out to tender and have the contract in place by February.
 Between then and now, however, there are many large gaps to fill and steps to take, not the least of which could involve approving the most expensive infrastructure project in Rossland’s recent history.
It was in part with respect to the scope and potential impact of this project on the City and taxpayers finances that a second meeting and discussion was needed to pass the motion originally tabled at the March 28th meeting. Several councilors, as reported in the Telegraph at that time, felt they had not received enough information to approve the City’s recommendation of ISL Contracting for the job.
The resulting information and report submitted back to councillors was a roughly 100 page document containing all of the original bids as well as answers to thirteen councilor-submitted questions.
In the end council voted unanimously (Councillors Andy Stradling and Hannah Smith were absent) to endorse the City’s recommendation of ISL but not without getting a few jabs in first.
Councilor Kathy Wallace and Mayor Greg Granstrom were in solid support of staff’s recommendation with Wallace suggesting that some councillors may have overstepped the boundaries between council and staff responsibilities.
“I think that it’s important that council knows what their roles are. It’s been a frustration of mine that over the years some councillors go across the line and when you get into the level of detailed asked for here were crossing the line. We have to let staff do their job. Why do we have staff and pay them so much money if council thinks they can do the job better? I think it`s much ado about nothing. I support the recommendation.”
Following a lengthy monologue on how he thought the process should have gone, Councillor Laurie Charlton backed up his request for more information with the notion that it’s council’s job to question staff.
“I think its council’s role to understand what it is they are doing in spending taxpayers’ money and asking pertinent questions and expecting detailed answers from staff to explain the basis of their recommendations. I don’t think it`s council’s role to just sit here and act like rubber stamp robots like some members of council seem to do.”
Wallace echoed some of Charlton’s concerns, and although she ultimately voted in favour of the motion to select ISL, still wished she had received more clear information on staff’s rationale for the recommendation.
“In terms of getting a recommendation from staff I’m happy to follow them, but I`d like to know where that recommendation came from so if a citizen comes to me tomorrow and says “You hired ISL great. Why are they better? I can`t answer that question. I’d like rationale from staff. I understand why they are good, but why are they better?”
With the matter now resolved, City staff will soon meet with ISL to outline the scope of the first phase of the project. No date has yet been announced but the City will be hosting a public meeting on the project in the near future.

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