A few weeks ago in a matter of a few hours a white crane standing at the Joint Operations Centre was gone. It was quite a sight to watch the construction crane taken apart, section by section, and loaded onto trucks. Yes, I was in the Aurora Community Arboretum when that happened on June 9th, 2015.
Since it took time for each section to be disassembled, in between I got to watch tree swallows providing for the juvenile in the nearby breeding boxes. And only tree swallows knew I was there. There were three guys on top of the crane doing the work. Their loud conversations often carried over the Arboretum and passed over my head. Unfortunately, a few times I was stunned by the vocabulary I was hearing. Often I thought, should I reveal my presence there. Lots of waiting time in between sections. By the time I left the Arboretum, only the vertical section of the crane was standing, with a guy resting on top.
We had this crane in the view in Aurora since last fall (2014). I must admit that construction sites with tower cranes visually look bigger. Now that the crane is gone, the Joint Operations Centre construction site is starting to blend in with other buildings located on Industrial Parkway. Anytime soon, it is going to be just another building and many will not even know that it was just built. Not many noticed that the crane wasn’t there anymore either.
Perhaps not many will know the Project Manager story for the Joint Operations Centre; however, keep reading if you enjoy municipal government politics. How the Town staff operates often intrigues me. It is a bureaucratic system after all and that system behaves differently than the private sector I am accustomed to.
There was a lot of controversy about this multi-million dollar Joint Operations Centre project during the last Council term 2010-2014; however, that was around the time when I started to be more interested in our municipal government affairs. I must admit, I was lost and confused during many Town Council meetings. Not until someone suggested to me to attend the General Committee meetings to hear all the preliminary discussions and deliberations. And this is how I now spend most of my Tuesday evenings.
About the Town of Aurora Joint Operations Centre:“On August 12, 2014 Aurora Town Council approved the construction of a new Joint Operations Centre at 229 Industrial Parkway North. The Joint Operations Centre project focuses on site development (earth works and servicing) for a 4.5 hectare (11 acre) site and facility construction of a 4,450 sq. m (80,000 sq. ft.) facility at 229 Industrial Parkway North to support municipal operations for the Town’s roads, water, sewer, parks, facilities and fleet divisions. The Joint Operations Centre will support current and future operations for The Town of Aurora through to and beyond the Town’s planned build out to 2030 providing services for over 70,000 residents.“
My first interest in the Joint Operations Centre project came last fall when I saw a large parcel of land with turned soil presumably thinking that this was part of the Aurora Community Arboretum. I was very disappointed to see the Aurora Community Arboretum shrinking by a substantial amount of land. However, that land didn’t belong to the Arboretum.
My further interest in the Joint Operations Centre kicked-in again last February, more so on the political side. Like everyone else, I was quite surprised to hear that for the first few months of the site being under construction there was no dedicated Project Manager even though the Joint Operations Centre is a multi-million dollar state of the art large scale project.
General Committee Meeting Tuesday February 17, 2015: “IES15-010 – Facility Projects Status Report; General Committee recommends: THAT Report No. IES15-010 be received; and THAT, notwithstanding the provisions and requirements of the Town’s Procurement By-law, MHPM Project Managers Inc. be retained for the fee of $75,400 (excluding taxes) to provide part-time support for the project administration and oversight duties currently performed by the Town for the Joint Operations Centre.“
The merits of the proposed Project Manager were explained in Report No. IES15-010 (GC Meeting Agenda) as follows.
“Having a dedicated resource to oversee the project and support town staff. Currently, the project is being administered by staff responsible for many other aspects of the department’s services. This results in delays in other business responsibilities and limited ability to meet all duties in a timely manner. Other departmental functions are therefore delayed as priority attention is being diverted to the JOC.“
“Third party oversight will benefit decision making effectiveness. Every project decision requires careful consideration of both immediate and long term impacts. The project team has been addressing these needs based on contributions from the architect, contractor and Town staff. An external perspective will bring decision making value to the project.“
“Expectation that these services will be justified through increased savings in contingency expenditures. Having an additional overseer role should result in more pre-issue resolution and theoretically reduce the pressure for contingency funding expenditures.“
Yes, convincing ‘theoretically reduce the pressure of contingency funding expenditures,‘ but ironically speaking the Project Manager’s part-time position funding is coming from the contingency fund. Town staff would not have been required to ask Town Council for approval if it wasn’t for the Procurement By-lawrequirements. A part-time Project Manager for a 6-month period for $75,400 was approved in February 2015 by the Town Council with the majority of votes in favour. At that time Town staff was also hinting at a possible extension for the life of the project. Not surprised.
Alternatives to the Project Manager were given but not given.
“ALTERNATIVE(S) TO THE RECOMMENDATIONS. Council may not support retaining the services of MHPM Project Leaders for part time project management support to the Town. This direction will require that staff continue to support Town administrative and project management functions. Internal resource constraints will require that other projects be delayed or deferred to provide sufficient support to the JOC.“
“We have this idea of bureaucracy in local government, and it’s generally things that we’re frustrated at. It doesn’t work the way we like it to work.” ~ Jennifer Pahlka
Six months didn’t pass yet; however, last General Committee Meeting on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 Town Council received a JOC project update and a recommendation to extend the Project Manager’s role for an additional $54,400 for the duration of the project; a total of $129,800. The presentation included a time lapsed video of the Joint Operations Centre construction. I noticed the video ended with the Tower crane still standing.
General Committee Meeting Tuesday, June 16th, 2015: “IES15-039 – Facility Projects Status Report; General Committee recommends: THAT Report No. IES15-039 be received; and THAT, notwithstanding the provisions and requirements of the Town’s Procurement By-law, the contract with MHPM Project Managers Inc. be increased by $54,400 to a revised budget of $129,800 (excluding taxes) to provide part-time support for the project administration and oversight duties for the full period of the construction of the Joint Operations Centre.“
My understanding is this, if the General Committee item from June 16, 2015 pertaining to JOC recommendations is not called up for discussion at the next Town Council meeting Tuesday June 23rd, then the recommendation automatically passes and the JOC Project Manager is going to be approved for the duration of the project.
Personally, back in February I was not in favour of the approval for a JOC Project Manager, my reasons were as vague as the Town’s reasons. However, I think it would be a mistake nowto hand back the Joint Operations Centre project management duties to the Town of Aurora Director of Infrastructure and Environmental Services and his staff. As at this point the Project Manager is the most qualified person to address the JOC future technical issues. There are no other reliable options at this point but to vote to extend the PM’s contract.
“Cost avoidance, properly defined as the act of eliminating costs or preventing their occurrence in the first place”
However, I would like to comment on the following item from the presentation: “PM has been very effective at providing Town oversight resulting in increased engagement and cost savings benefits.” The Director of Infrastructure and Environmental Services also verbally stated that, “one of the biggest challenges this spring was the construction of the retaining wall along the north face of the site where there were some concerns with the spring thaw and potential issue with soil, and all that was avoided.” A potential claim of $300,000 was ‘avoided’. Yes, he said avoided. Additionally there were apparent ‘savings‘ of $250,000 related to change orders, again from issues with soil conditions on the site from October/November 2014. Something does not add up here. From the information provided it’s not clear why the Town would wait to resolve fall issues until February 2015 when the PM was hired. Although I am sure there is a reasonable explanation for this, we just don’t have all the facts. However, I would be very interested to hear more about the PM’s technical resolutions to avoid and save in total over half a million of dollars.
Is it fair then to say as well, that if everything goes well upon completion of the project on time and on budget, that the Town of Aurora will save $250,000, less the Project Manager contract fee. These would be substantial costs if incurred, so I am hoping that someone will at least ask for a technical update on the soil conditions. Especially again, the $250,000 in change orders related to issues from fall 2014 and finally resolved in spring 2015.
Now what I really would like to know, what is wrong with the soil beside and under the Joint Operations Centre construction site, as both concerns raised were directly related to the soil conditions? Perhaps, the soil conditions would have been better for the Aurora Community Arboretum after all.
Anna Lozyk Romeo