Instead of celebrating the upcoming grand opening of Renfrew’s newly expanded and renovated Ma-Te-Way Activity Centre, town council and senior staff will likely be busy gathering documents in preparation for a third-party independent investigation as to why the original cost of $16.million has ballooned to $28 million and why the project will likely have to move back another opening day ceremony.

Councillor John McDonald, one of five new Renfrew councillors who has been struggling to understand how the spiraling costs became so out of control since he and others were sworn in as the town’s governing body last November, wants answers.

During last week’s April 11 council meeting, Mr. McDonald filed a Notice of Motion to be introduced at the next council meeting. His request is fairly simple: he wants an independent, third-party investigation to provide the town with a simple explanation as to why a project that was shovel-ready and provided millions of dollars by the two upper levels of government has seen its overall budget increase by more than $12 million, which amounts to a 74 percent increase.

“The motion will include that the assessment will be managed by the CAO, with the final report being brought forth to the recreation, fire and protective services committee by the end of 2023,” Mr. McDonald said when he provided council with the motion. “This review will allow the town to have a thorough ‘lessons learned’ document that can be applied to future projects.”

The Ma-te-Way Activity Centre expansion is a $16.2 million project adjoined to the current arena in Ma-te-Way Park. The 76,500 square foot expansion includes an Indigenous Cultural Centre, an NHL sized ice rink, an elevated walking track, fitness centre, regulation sized gymnasium, multipurpose rooms, parks, recreation and facilities. It also expands to include administrative offices and lease space.

The escalating costs have been a reality for the current council members, and those who served in the previous term (2014-2018). Then-councillor Sandi Heins was one of the first former members who began to demand timely and accurate monthly reporting statistics when she raised the issue during a December 2021 meeting. 

Over a period of several months, she and some other councillors became more vocal in their frustration that former Recreation Director Kevin Hill was not providing all the statistics regarding costs in a timelier manner. 

At the time, Coun. Heins said she was concerned record-high inflation and the strain on the post-pandemic global supply chain was already having an impact on major infrastructure projects not just in Renfrew, but other municipalities were concerned about rising costs. 

Along with ballooning costs, the optics of a series of false opening date announcements has frustrated both council and senior staff members. The original date to cut the red ribbon was set for New Year’s Opening in 2021, then was pushed back to early 2022 and has again been moved down the schedule to July of this year.

One thing the five new members and returning members Mayor Tom Sidney and Reeve Peter Emon can agree on is that the need for an outsider to examine the issue appears to be the preferred course of action. While commenting on the notice, Reeve Emon said it is welcome news.

“A mature organization should not be afraid to take a critical look at itself and its processes,” he said. “I would go out on a limb and say I don’t think there’s ever been a contract ever awarded by anybody that’s been perfectly executed and where everybody was happy by the end of it. It makes sense to do this.”

Council is expected to vote on the investigation at its regular council meeting on April 25.

By Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 19, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eganville Leader   Eganville, Ontario
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