We are all voting for Central Park

Parks-CentralPark

I was walking in my neighbourhood this evening and saw signs up that said, “We’re voting Central Park” and fears of loss of green space. There is nothing to fear! At a July 19th Committee of the Whole meeting I made a motion that Council passed unanimously directing staff to come up with a plan for the new Crystal Pool that will result in no net loss of green space. Staff are now working on this and will report back to Council and the public in September.

Just like we did recently with Topaz Park, to much community acclaim, we will do a detailed, and community-centred consultation on the future of Central Park beginning in early 2019. We understand the strong connection that residents have with the existing park amenities. Along with building Victoria’s new aquatic and wellness centre, we will also be renewing the park; this has been the plan all along. During construction we will work to preserve as many of the park features as we can.

The Crystal Pool and Fitness Center is an important piece of Victoria’s history. It is a community hub and one of Victoria’s oldest and most frequently used recreation facilities. Unfortunately it is now reaching the end of its life and requires significant investment to meet current building, seismic and accessibility standards. Council asked staff to do a feasibility study in 2016, reviewing three options: to upgrade, refurbish or replace the ageing facility. After extensive analysis of the existing service gaps and long-term needs of the community, in February 2017 Council unanimously approved the replacement of the existing building with a new, barrier-free recreation centre.

December 2016 Crystal Pool Feasibility Staff Report
February 2017 Crystal Pool Feasibility Study Staff Report Follow Up

Today, one in five residents can’t access the Crystal Pool due to the split-level design which limits access for persons with disabilities including mobility impairments. The new facility will welcome all ages and abilities through a design that removes barriers to participation. This universally-accessible recreation centre will feature a 50m pool, universal and inclusive change rooms, an expanded fitness area, better spaces for events and programs, a welcoming community space, and public washrooms for park users.

The new facility is anticipated to see an increase in annual visits by 35%. Over the past year and a half, we’ve been focused on engaging citizens, meeting stakeholder groups and working with technical experts and other partners to first design and then to refine the design of the facility. In June, we presented schematic designs for the facility to the community at public Open House sessions and the City received feedback from the community through an online survey; 80% of people who participated expressed support for the facility design.

Screenshot 2018-07-31 21.35.06

The investment required for the new facility is significant and the City has committed $10 million from its Building and Infrastructure Fund towards the $69.4 million budget and we have the ability to fund up to 33% of the project with city resources should this be necessary. We are also seeking funding from external sources including other levels of government. In February, the Union of B.C. Municipalities announced the award of $6 million from the Federal Gas Tax Fund, and applications will be submitted for two other large grant programs.

To stay in touch as the Crystal Pool and Central Park projects unfold, please look for  regular updates here.

 

New Downtown Location Planned for Victoria Fire Hall and Emergency Operations Centre

Screenshot 2018-03-19 13.45.01

Date: Monday, March 19, 2018
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — A new Victoria public safety building will be built downtown under an agreement reached with local developer Dalmatian Developments Limited Partnership, a Jawl Residential and Nadar Holdings Ltd. venture.

The state-of-the-art, post-seismic rated facility will be located on Johnson Street as part of a new mixed-use development adjacent to Pacific Mazda.

The 41,700 square-foot facility replaces the current 26,700 square-foot fire headquarters building that has served the citizens of Victoria since 1959. The new facility will house fire and rescue services and Victoria’s first purpose-built Emergency Operations Centre. In addition, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has agreed to lease 3,200-square-feet of space from the City to operate a stand-alone facility for paramedics and four ambulances under a planned 20-year co-service agreement.

The proposed public safety building will be built to meet the upcoming changes to the BC Building Code standards for buildings designed to remain operable post disaster, which means it will be built to a seismic design load that is 50 per cent higher than typical commercial buildings that will be built under the new code’s increased seismic requirements. After an earthquake, the new building will be able to be safely re-entered and used to deliver emergency services.

Subject to Council approval, the City will pay $33.7 million to purchase and own the turnkey facility as part of the broader development. Additional costs to the City will include off-site servicing, sidewalk improvements, equipment and project management, bringing the total cost for the project to $35.9 million. This will be paid for through available funds in the City’s Debt Reduction Reserve. There will be no property tax impact and no grants required from senior levels of government. Under the agreement, the City will make an initial refundable deposit, with the remaining payment made upon completion and acceptance of the facility.

In February 2016, Council approved in principle using up to $30 million from the City’s Debt Reduction Reserve for the procurement of a new Fire Department Headquarters at either the existing site or a new site identified through the Request for Qualifications market sounding process. The $30 million did not include funding that may be required for land purchase or any additional multi-use components such as BCEHS.

Dalmatian Developments is working with HCMA Architecture + Design, who has designed a number of recently constructed fire halls in British Columbia. Dalmatian’s vision for the site, which includes lots on Johnson, Cook and Yates Streets, is a master-planned, mixed-use development.

To provide financial certainty and minimize project risk, a third-party review was conducted by Johnston Davidson Architecture, the firm that completed the initial needs analysis for construction of a new facility. The review looked at functional flow of the layout, systems, specifications and the operational performance of the proposed public safety building.

In addition, an independent Value for Money assessment was completed by PricewaterhouseCoopers comparing the negotiated deal with independent benchmark costing for post-disaster buildings, as well as the alternate option to build on the City’s existing site. The costing comparison indicates this deal is fair and shows greater value for money and overall lower cost than the alternate option.

The current headquarters can remain at 1234 Yates Street while the new facility is constructed, saving time, money and, importantly, operational efficiency compared to identifying and setting up a suitable alternate temporary space if the City had chosen to build on site.

The agreement is subject to Victoria City Council authorizing funds in its 2018 Financial Plan at its March 22 meeting, and to Dalmatian Developments bringing their overall project through the rezoning process, which includes the construction of the new public safety building.

The developer plans to submit a rezoning application to the City within the next six months. It is anticipated that if the land use process results in appropriate zoning of the property and the developer secures the necessary building permits, construction will take approximately 28 months.

Quotes:

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps:
“We’ve taken an innovative approach to this project. We canvassed the private sector and said, ‘We need a fire hall, what are your ideas?’ What has come back is a fantastic project with a high-quality local developer that will see a fire hall built as part of a mixed use project that will be much more cost effective to the city than a stand-alone project, or rebuilding on the current site.”

Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce:
“This is an inspiring development that will meet our needs today and well into the future, as we continue to pursue local and regional efficiencies in our effort to provide the public with the highest level of emergency services.  The inclusion of an Emergency Operations Centre capable of managing hazard response specific to the City of Victoria is a practical and effective improvement to the management of emergencies on a holistic level.”

David Jawl, Director of Development, Dalmatian Developments:
“We look forward to working with the neighbourhood and the City to deliver a development that we can all be proud of for many years to come.”

Lance Stephenson, BC Emergency Health Services, Patient Care Director for Vancouver Island:
“In terms of location, this is absolutely ideal. The new centre is in the perfect location for us to get to patients in the downtown core. It’s great to be partnering in this new state-of-the-art centre and an incredible opportunity for our paramedics.”  

View the report to be presented to City Council for consideration at the March 22 Committee of the Whole meeting.

 

Focussed on the Future: Council Visits Crystal Pool

Council had a tour of Crystal Pool today. I worked with the City Manager to arrange this for today because I thought it was a good idea for Council to tour the facility in advance of having a discussion about it at Thursday’s meeting. And Council held the New Year’s Levy there this year, in part, to send a signal to the public that this is an important community facility that deserves and requires Council’s attention.

Like many of you, I value the facility and use it regularly. If it makes most financial long-term sense to reinvest in and refurbish the current facility, I would support this. As tomorrow’s report to the Governance and Priorities Committee shows, we still need more information to determine if this is possible and if there is long-term financial benefit to refurbishment.

Should the City decide to rebuild rather than refurbish the pool, I would like us to keep our options open as to how we get to a publicly run swimming pool. What I would like to see, should we need to rebuild the pool is to develop a business case for a Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre that incorporates a publicly owned and operated swimming pool and recreation centre as well as commercial / retail space and housing.

This may require a partnership with the non-profit or private sector for the housing portion and for the commercial space (for doctor’s office, massage therapist, chiropractor etc). As stewards of public assets Council has a responsibility to put those assets to their best and highest use.

One thing I can assure you of is that I’m as committed to public participation as I am to Crystal Pool. Before Council makes any long-term decision about what to do with the site, I favour a deep and meaningful public participation process. In this process we will share information about the pool as well as the other City facilities that are in need up upgrade and repair and we will gather information about what is important to you in a public recreation facility.

Building Better Bridges – Why I Voted Against the Johnson Street Bridge Project

The Johnson Street Bridge replacement project is the talk of the town these days. This past weekend at the Phillips Backyard Weekender people were sipping great local beer and fretting over the potential cost increase of the project. Others said that at a weekend cocktail party, guests had grave concerns about who will pay if the price goes up – and that they’re watching my leadership on the issue closely.

What went wrong

In late March 2014, the City received a change order from PCL (the contractor building the bridge) for $7.9 million and a request to extend the project schedule by five and a half months. In response, Jason Johnson, the newly hired City Manager, engaged engineer Jonathan Huggett to review the project. Huggett’s report was made public last week. The report revealed three key problems with management of the project to date. 

1. No one had been put in charge of the project. As Huggett notes, “During my review I asked everyone involved a simple question: ‘Who is in charge of the project?’ Nobody could provide me with an answer.”

2. There is no official project schedule. A schedule had been submitted by PCL to the City on April 6 2013. But it is still unclear to Huggett whether all parties (MMM the City’s engineer, PCL and the City) agreed to this schedule.

3. The collaborative process that had been established in the contract to review issues as they arose had broken down.

Confronting Reality

These three facts leave Council and the public in a difficult situation. A recent Times Colonist editorial noted, “Fortin’s fixed-price fixation notwithstanding, Huggett has doubts that the project can be completed at the contract price.” At Council last week (watch here) Council and the public learned more about why it is unlikely that the project can be completed on budget.

Director of Engineering and Public Works told Council that, “We do still have a large part [of the contingency] which is unallocated; I think it is going quite well.”

Immediately after he spoke, Huggett stepped in. “It’s worth talking about the contingency,” he said. “It’s a concern to me. The problem that occurred [when the contract was awarded] is that some of the very key components were no more than a concept in somebody’s eye. There were elements of the project that were reduced to a 10% design. The problem comes that you have a bunch of components at 10% design with a contingency [budget] of less than 5% [of the total project budget.]”

Huggett’s conclusion? “Frankly, from what I know, the contingency is very small and is likely already used up. I promised you I wouldn’t come in here and try and sugar coat it.”

Moving Forward

I voted against awarding the contract to PCL in late 2012. My reason was simple. The design wasn’t far enough along to award the contract with only a 4% contingency budget. Now, it’s time to move beyond looking backwards and to do the best we can to get the project under control. Here’s how:

  1. Get a revised project budget as soon as possible. After learning last Thursday that the contingency is likely used up, I said that if that’s the case, Council needs to know what the potential cost increases are, as unpopular as that may be, so we can start planning. Huggett committed to getting Council a revised project budget by early September.
  2. Finalize and confirm a project schedule that all parties agree to. Huggett promised this within the coming weeks.
  3. Create a risk registry specific to the project (not a generic risk registry that has been used to date) and ensure that risk mitigation strategies are in place.
  4. Have someone in charge of the project and fix relationships among PCL, MMM and the City.  With Huggett at the helm and the collaborative spirit of our City Manager guiding the process, this is well in hand.

Council’s job is to go forward with eyes wide open. We need to hold Huggett to the commitments he made last Thursday. We need to be realistic about the cost of the project. And, most importantly, we need to keep the public – those paying for this new bridge – informed.

Sewage Treatment: CRD Residents Deserve a Better Plan

Two weeks ago, I was invited by Andrew Weaver to be part of a three-person panel at a Public Forum on Sewage Treatment. In front of a standing room only crowd at the Oak Bay Rec Centre, it was clear to me how much passion and anxiety there is about sewage treatment in the CRD. It was also clear, in the question and answer period, how sewage treatment seems to have becoming a polarizing issue for people who, for the most part, agree that we need to treat our sewage. The question that remains, and the divisive question, is how best do we do this?

Andrew asked me to discuss what local councils and elected officials can do to ensure that CRD residents get the best plan possible. Here’s what I said. 

1. Listen to Residents
I hear on a regular basis, “The public is apathetic. Voter turnout is low. People don’t really seem to be paying attention or care about municipal issues, etc.” But then, when a wide, and growing, sector of the public steps up and says, “Hold on CRD officials, we’re not convinced this is the best sewage treatment plan for the region,” when volunteers take the time and effort to propose an alternate plan (The R.I.T.E. Plan), when hundreds of people come to open houses, pack land use committee and council meetings, ask questions and speak up, they’re treated like a nuisance. There’s a sense that some CRD Directors and staff wish that these people would sit down, shut up, and just let the CRD get on with its plan. 

This is not an authentic way to engage the public. It does not welcome public participation or take public input into consideration in order to create the best possible sewage treatment plan, for the long term. And this is the goal – the best plan for the long term. As elected officials we have a responsibility to listen to what our residents are saying and to consider their input in our decision-making processes. It is the public who is paying for this project.

2. Extend the Timeline
I’m proud of my Victoria Council colleague and CRD Director
 Marianne Alto, who is putting forward a motion to ask the CRD board to ask the province to extend the timeline of the project to 2020. Extending the timeline will allow the CRD to bring the project up to date by considering again a distributed, tertiary sewage treatment system that incorporates technology dismissed five years ago as too expensive. 

As Andrew Weaver points out, the deadline is somewhat arbitrary. The CRD is currently required by the Province to treat its sewage by 2016. The Federal regulations set a deadline of 2020. Weaver said at the forum that the CRD will need to ask the Province to extend the deadline to at least 2018 because that’s when the proposed project is set to become operational. So why not ask for an extension to 2020 to align with the Federal requirements. Furthermore, and thankfully, Esquimalt Council has not approved the necessary zoning that the CRD would require to build the proposed plant. And no contract has been awarded for the construction of the plant. 

Residents and elected officials need to make the case that more time will result in a better plan, because the proposed plan is not good enough; I’ll say why in a moment. Alto’s motion will be debated at the February 12th CRD Board meeting which begins at 1:30pm in the CRD’s sixth floor board room (625 Fisgard St). Here’s a list of CRD Directors and their contact information. Whether you’re for or against extending the timeline, please take the time to write to CRD Directors and share your thoughts. When elected officials receive hundreds of emails from the public, we take note.

3. Move Beyond Sustainability and Design for Abundance
In The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability, Designing for Abundance, William McDonough and Michael Braungart make the case that sustainability is no longer a good enough aspiration. The authors ask us to, “Think about attempting to fall in love less wastefully. Or what about an efficient child or an efficient childhood? Terrible, right? Children, and childhood, can be – and we prefer them to be – full of richness, diverse enjoyments, fruitfulness, digressions, wanderings, imagination and creativity. Who would want a simply ‘sustainable’ marriage? Humans can certainly aspire to  more than that. In all of life, people can think big.”

Looking at sewage treatment through this lens is important both politically and economically. Politically, designing for abundance – which I’ll discuss in a moment – has the potential to bring key organizations on board for a better plan. The David Suzuki Foundation and the Georgia Strait Alliance have been key and vocal supporters of the CRD’s proposed plan and they are also champions of sustainability. But what if these organizations and others could begin to embrace the idea that sustainability – what McDonough and Braungart call “doing less bad” rather than “more good” – is no longer good enough. And what if they could begin to advocate for a plan that does even better than the sustainable treatment of sewage.

Part of ‘thinking big’ about sewage treatment is to look at sewage as a source of nutrients and income rather than as a liability and cost. Here’s where the economics come in, and the ‘upcycling’ of waste into money.

sewage_treatment_is_nutrient_recovery.jpg

Without going into too many details, here’s one way (and there are more) that the CRD could recover nutrients and earn revenue, by treating our sewage. Everyone who grows food knows that phosphate is one of the key ingredients in soil health. What may be less well known is that there is a huge demand on the world market for slow-release phosphate. According to McDonough and Braungart – and as illustrated in this diagram from The Upcycle – nutrient-recovery from sewage is one way to meet this demand.

There is a technology (developed in Vancouver!) available for recovering phosphate from sewage. And, this technology is already part of the CRD’s plan. But because the plan proposes only secondary treatment, which captures the sludge but releases the majority of the ‘waste water’ back into the ocean rather than treating it, there is a huge loss of potential revenue through phosphate recovery. At the Clover Point and McCaulay Point Pump stations combined, 264 tonnes of phosphorous go back into the ocean each year, and will continue to do so with the CRD’s proposed sewage treatment plan. That is a lot of potential revenue being flushed out to sea.

So, finally, how do we begin to design for abundance? We begin with a clear statement of intention that will guide a project from conception to implementation. If we look at what proponents of the current CRD plan are saying we might guess that the statement of intention around the project from the outset went something like this:

“We have to treat our sewage because upper levels of government told us to do it and it’s the right thing to do for the environment and we need to do it in a way that will cost taxpayers as little money as possible in the short term.” 

Compare that against this: “Let’s design and build a sewage treatment / nutrient recovery system that generates revenue and an abundance of useable energy and water for the short, medium and long term.”

If not now, then when? We are building this key piece of infrastructure for the long term, for the next generations. We need to get it right. Our children and their children deserve it.

The Future of Crystal Pool

An article in today’s Times Colonist outlines Councillor Ben Isitt’s vision for Crystal Pool. Tonight he’s bringing his vision to Council in a motion calling on city council to affirm the “public ownership and operation” of any Crystal Pool replacement. His touchstone is a motion made by the previous council in October 2011 that “supports retention of a public pool and fitness centre in Victoria.”

Here’s my take. I support the retention of a public pool and fitness centre in Victoria. And, to be perfectly clear, I support this facility being operated by the City and staffed by our terrific, competent and very capable workers. I’ve spent hours at Crystal Pool over the years. The most fun I’ve had is with a now ten-year-old. We’d be jumping and playing with those wonderful big mats and then all of a sudden she’d be interested in joining the seniors in their aquafit class so we’d join in, just like that and be welcomed by the instructor!

What is really really important to me as the City goes out to the public in the new year to do a comprehensive public engagement process with regard to Crystal Pool is that we keep our options (and our ears) open with regard to ownership of the facility should we decide to rebuild not to refurbish.

As noted in the video in my last blog post, the City has three key underfunded projects to tend to over the next five years: Firehall Number 1, the Crystal Pool and the Bay Street bridge. In addition to applying to upper levels of governments for grants, we’ve got to be creative and think outside the box and about new possibilities and options for funding these projects.

In the 1980s when times were tough, the Province partnered with a developer to build new office buildings. The developer retained ownership of the buildings and leased them back to the province which then operated the buildings/used them publicly, for government purposes. And, a key part of the deal was that if the developer was ever going to sell the buildings, the Province had the right of first refusal. 

I’m not saying this is the way to go with Crystal Pool. I am saying that City Council needs to be open to a number of options with regard to ownership of the pool should we determine that building a new pool is necessary. And, as we go out to the public to do public engagement with regard to the pool this winter, we need to be open to the creative, innovative ideas that come to us through the public engagement process. As I see it, passing Councillor Isitt’s motion tonight closes down, rather than opens up possibilities for having a public pool in the City of Victoria.

Under Funded Capital Projects

In this video I talk briefly about three of the City of Victoria’s underfunded capital projects – Fire Hall No. 1, the Bay Street Bridge, and the Crystal Pool. Last Thursday at Council we received an updated report on the City’s 20 Year Capital Plan. We learned that these key pieces of city infrastructure need to be addressed over the next five years but the City doesn’t have enough funding to undertake any of them.

The report details some funding options, including grants and partnerships. As I say in the video, key for me, is that a.) the public has all this information available when we embark on the public engagement with regard to the Crystal Pool in the new year and b.) that we are all open to creative new ideas for funding these projects. I look forward to the engagement process.