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Government defends athletes’ village decisions

There’s a very good reason why an athletes’ village for the 2007 Canada Winter Games has ballooned more than 10 times the original…

There’s a very good reason why an athletes’ village for the 2007 Canada Winter Games has ballooned more than 10 times the original estimate, said Community Services minister Glenn Hart.

The games host society, headed by former Yukon premier Piers McDonald, asked the government in November 2004 to help build the village.

The society realized the project could not be completed for the original $2.9 million estimate, said Hart on Monday.

“It’s not like we’ve had this project on our books for the last three years,” Hart said in response to queries from Porter Creek South MLA Pat Duncan during Question Period.

“We were asked to assist the host society in its endeavour to build an athletes’ village, because it was fairly evident that it didn’t have the money nor the resources to pull it off.”

But the government also sole-sourced 18 of the construction contracts for the village, said Duncan.

“One of the reasons the athletes village is so far over-budget is because the Yukon Party has refused to use competitive bidding for many of the contracts that have been let as part of the construction,” she said.

“There are at least 18 sole-source contracts this year alone, including one to an Edmonton firm for $1.7 million to develop a concept design for the athletes’ village.

“Why is the minister doing everything he can to send work to Alberta instead of trying to build the Yukon’s economy?”

Under normal circumstances the Yukon government follows a policy of only sole sourcing contracts up to $25,000.

But, under exceptional circumstances, the directors of various branches have the power to sole-source above that threshold.

And cabinet ministers can sole-source contracts anytime, for “special cases,” according to the government’s website.

Which is how Barr Ryder Architects and Planners got its $1.7 million sole-sourced contract.

But 50 per cent of the athletes’ village contracts have gone to Yukon companies, said Hart.

“Approximately 50 per cent is from Outside, but that is what was required in order to get this project underway and to get it done on time.”

There are 21 Yukon subcontractors currently working on the site, according to government spokesman Peter Carr.

And 75 per cent of the crew from the ATCO Group that are constructing the modular units are Yukoners, said Carr.

The host society put out a request for contractor proposals in October 2004, but none of the submissions were acceptable, said Premier Dennis Fentie.

“All proposals that came forward did not meet the requirements necessary,” said Fentie in an interview.

“The host society cancelled the (request for proposals), and engaged with the government to help them.

“The government made the decision to build a student’s residence and affordable housing on the college precinct, so that there was a lasting legacy from the Canada Winter Games.”

Several times, Duncan asked the government to recruit federal auditor general Sheila Fraser to review the books.

“What would be the point in that?” Fentie asked, rhetorically.

“Given the size of this project, the auditor general is going to review it anyway.”

If Fraser doesn’t examine the athletes’ village costs, the Yukon’s own auditors probably will.

“The auditor general’s focus is primarily large projects, capital projects,” said John Gunter, director of government audit services.

“They may well think that that’s a project they want to look at and, if that’s the case, I won’t,” said Gunter.

“We make sure that we don’t audit the same thing twice.”

Given the timeline, there wasn’t a better option to build an athletes’ village, said Fentie

“Like what? Spending $20 million and dragging trailers into the Yukon, and then hauling them out?

“If you want to do the arithmetic on stick-built, from ground up, I challenge you to find a way to do stick-built from ground up cheaper than modular units.

“That’s why they invented modular units. Cost, and time.

“When you look at the timeframe and the overall cost, the choice had to be made.

“Certain things took place, like appointing a project manager, and why is that? Because there are no project managers available in the whole corporate structure of government because they’re all busy because of the stimulus we have created in capital investment.”

The Yukon’s success will mimic Regina’s, where the 2005 Canada Summer Games were held, said Fentie.

“This is a very similar approach used by Regina in the Canada Summer Games, leaving a lasting legacy at their university for students residences.”

The two towers built on the University of Regina campus for the summer games cost $38 million, said student residence manager Judy Amundson.

The university took out a mortgage on the buildings, so they were constructed without any government grants or assistance, Amundson said Wednesday.

There was also a demonstrated need for student housing, she said.

“They were part of a longer-term vision, because we had a low percentage of beds for students.”

Planning for the Regina project began in 2000. Construction began in 2002 and was completed in 2004, eight months before the Games began.

Of the 693 beds built to help accommodate roughly 2,500 athletes for two weeks, 84 per cent have since been occupied by students, said Amundson.

“We expect we’ll have 100 per cent occupancy within a year or two.”

One of building from the Whitehorse athletes’ village will be used for student housing.

The other will be administered by the Yukon Housing Corporation as affordable housing.