Someone once raised an interesting question on my Facebook Group. They asked me if I did anything else besides “questioning the current administration.” The question was intriguing, not so much because of what was asked, but more how it sounded: “current administration,” – kind of American, don’t you think? Well here in Aurora, to me they are a local politicians.
Although I will not go into detail, I will say that spectating and critiquing municipal politics is not my primary focus but it definitely absorbs significant hours of my week. In addition, the pandemic presented me with far more digital resources than I ever imagined – electronic committee meetings especially. I am not necessarily in heaven, it’s more work, but more online resources are always welcome.
Following my previously posted “boardwalk rant”, more questions about partnerships were triggered. I do believe partnerships are important, yet I think they need to be carefully evaluated. I cannot stress enough the need for public input when it is appropriate. At the end of the day, the final decision made needs to be thoroughly deliberated and justified accordingly to maintain and demonstrate balanced fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers. Simply put, one side should not be paying for all.
Partnership “Process” in Question
At least the $630,000 Kwik Kopy boardwalk had a report submitted for Council to deliberate on, but not like this next partnership I am about to evaluate that skipped an important process step.
On November 20, 2021 during Budget 2022, Council pulled the St. Anne’s School Park budget item for discussion. That particular budget item was seeking initial budget of $200,000 for the St. Anne’s Private School park ‘design’, specifically artificial turf fields. The total of the final product to be constructed was estimated in the budget at $4.5M ($4,493,900), excluding any in-house costs for work on the project.
“I cannot stress enough the need for public input when it is appropriate.”Anna Lozyk Romeo
During that budget meeting, Town staff communicated to Council that the Town of Aurora is currently looking to establish a partnership and conversations “led through the CAOs office” have been taking place between all involved parties for some time. Interestingly enough the park is for St. Anne’s School, yet the Town was in conversation with St. Andrew’s College instead. Secondly, the re-zoning of the property was currently undertaken by the developer, Shining Hill.
So in a normal scenario Council would be receiving a fulsome report outlining the scope of the whole project, a potential partnership proposal, and then budgeting accordingly.
In the current case scenario somehow St. Anne’s park design came to budgeting FIRST. Not following the process, especially for a substantial dollar amount, this skipped PROCESS STEP should put such partnership on the public’s radar, that is of course if the public is watching.
One Step Forward Zero Steps Back
Cllr Gallo was correct when he said, “I really don’t like spending $200,000 on the design before we actually say yes to a project. That to me doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, because once you’ve spent, and we all know this, once you’ve spent $200,000 and gone that far deep in that design, who’s going to say NO going forward.” Exactly, who is going to say NO! Smoothly inserting a $200,000 park design cost into the budget equates to a very likely irreversible commitment. Simply the project must move on.
Other Funding Sources
What kind of park are we building for St. Anne’s Private School for almost $4.5M? That’s a lot of money. Park design of $200,000 is a lot of money. Potentially a prestige park? Not sure but apparently the fields will be artificial turf. Mr. Downey, Director of Operations, explained, “So in discussions with St. Andrew’s College, they have indicated what their needs are. Their artificial turf requirements are actually greater than Town’s standard. […] If there’s a premium, then that premium should be paid by St. Andrew’s College.” Of course the premium should be paid by St. Andrew’s College (or St. Anne’s School, or Shining Hill); however, Mr. Downey only hinted about paying the premium, and nothing about splitting all the costs. Are we going to pay for the whole St. Anne’s park, just like we paid $630K for the Kwik Kopy boardwalk? It’s also possible then that the ‘other funding sources’ may be related to debt financing. Simply, the Town taking another loan in addition to our already existing $30,000,000 debt.
Partnership with a Private Institution
After deliberation the $200,000 St. Anne’s park design budget item was conditionally approved by Council. Let’s hope that Council will make a sound decision later on. After all St. Andrew’s College, St. Anne’s School and Shining Hill are profitable private entities and I am sure are capable of funding their own park infrastructure. Also, I share the same sentiment with Cllr Gaertner, “I would also like to add that we’ve never done a partnership with a private school. Usually private schools provide their own facilities. I’m uncomfortable with doing a partnership with a high-end school like this. It doesn’t sit well with me at all and I will wait for the report, but I’m not in favour at the moment for sure.”
It is important to note that the Town will be losing sport fields sometime in the future. Robin McDougall, Director of Community Services has stated that: “… with the loss of Magna, now the Stronach lands, it is 19 fields that we are losing come 2025 with the strategy of replacing that I think it’s important to know that artificial turfs obviously it’s not 1 for 1. Artificial turfs definitely can supply more accommodations. In far as the Saint Anne’s lands that was not part of the scope of work originally. This would be certainly a benefit to service not only maybe the loss, supplement the loss, but also for growth as Aurora continues to grow.”
“Not following the process, especially for a substantial dollar amount, this skipped PROCESS STEP should put such partnership on the public’s radar, that is of course if the public is watching.”Anna Lozyk Romeo
So something is happening with the Stronach lands, but that sounds like another story. Then in closing I pose the simple question, why would Aurora taxpayers be footing the majority of the bill for partnerships with private corporations? I guess we’ll have to wait for the Town staff report to be published for Council, and hopefully then the justification will be clearer for Aurora taxpayers.
Anna Lozyk Romeo
1] 18-39: 73338 St. Anne’s School Park Design
CAPITAL BUDGET – $200,000
Project Description: “Design and construction of a new park in the Shining Hill Development (once approved) in partnership with St. Anne’s School. Park and school properties border one another allowing for easy flow and partnering opportunities. Park to include a multi use artificial turf, playground, tennis, basketball washroom and small 20 vehicle parking lot. Additional parking and bleacher seating will be accommodated on St. Anne’s School lands. Retention of design consultant in 2022 to provide detailed design, tender documents and contract administration, followed by construction of park in 2023.”
Watch here: https://youtu.be/ZgfpEDosPnY?t=10039 (for transcribed video check below)
Budget Document Tab 18 (File Type PDF): https://www.aurora.ca/en/your-government/resources/business-and-finance/2022-Budget-Details/Tab-18—GN-Capital.pdf
Cllr Thompson (02:47:31 – https://youtu.be/ZgfpEDosPnY?t=10051): “Certainly, I’m in support of the idea of the design and the construction of the park. However, I was interested to note within the comments, to talk about artificial turf field at this point to be constructed in a similar arrangement that we have with St. Max we see it coming on in the short term. I guess, since we’ve been talking so much about fields and especially artificial turf fields. How long has this been on the radar?”
Mr. Downey, Director of Operations: “Certainly if you want to, I can help out a little bit because both Mr. Waters and myself and CAO have been involved in this project. So, it’s been ongoing for quite a period of time. It has been led through the CAOs office. We have held meetings with the St. Andrew’s college regarding this. This staff report is in response to some of those discussions. However, I’m sorry, this capital budget item is in response to those discussions. However, we have not presented consulate staff report, which is the intent. We are awaiting approval of the Shining Hill development or Council approval of the Shining Hill development. Once that staff report is presented and approved by Council we will be immediately presenting to Council report outlining the components that we are looking at or discussing within this park and the cost implications: who’s paying for it, what the operating cost might be. And Council will have an opportunity then to review all the elements within this park and the costs associated with it.”
Mr. Nadorozny, CAO: “I think Mr. Downey covered it. I’m sure he start up with the fact that this scheme came on the radar with the potential development of St. Anne’s school and the potential for a partnership. All of the details that which would be brought to council before we would move forward.”
Cllr Thompson: “Thank you. Just a comment. I mean, you know, I fully understand that there are a lot of dominoes and places about to fall and that. It is potential that at the same time we’ve been having multiple conversations around field strategies specific to the fact that we’re looking to offset the loss of the Magna fields in 2025. It seems that every week we have this conversation and every week a new piece of information is being unveiled. Again, I’ll go back to the point that if we’re going to have a talk about a strategy and how to address this loss, it would be nice that all of the pieces of information in front of us at the same time so that we can have a fulsome discussion and make good decisions. It’s challenging at best to deal with this in isolation.”
Cllr Gallo (02:51:12 – https://youtu.be/ZgfpEDosPnY?t=10272): “I do share those viewpoints as all of you know. With this one what I heard from Mr. Downey, I really like that, you know, we’re going to put some more information together and then come to Council with the report. What I see before us is spending $200,000 on a design of a field that we haven’t even approved.Which is not common in terms of when we move forward with these types of projects. Not to mention I have no idea the details around almost4.5 million dollar project and as it stands it look like, other funding sources, not lot of detail on other, I realized we’re not dealing with the whole ticket price. But to me, we move these projects forward we whether agree or don’t agree in this line is part of it. I really don’t like spending $200,000 on the design before we actually say yes to a project. That to me doesn’t make any sense whatsoever because once you’ve spent, and we all know this, once you’ve spent $200,000 and gone that far deep in that design, who’s going to say no going forward. Maybe some clarity around what we’re actually approving.”
Mr. Nadorozny: “Our intention would be that we would not start any of the formal design work until we had approval from the Council to proceed with the project. So that would be part of the whole Shining Hill development approval as well. So I can assure Council that nodesign work will be completed until Council agrees that they want to see the park in the format that we recommend ultimately.”
Mr. Downey: “Just to give some reassurance, we have done some in-house work and only and in house work. We haven’t engaged anyone to do a further design and the only reason we did some in house work is to, so that we had some concept plans or ideas to discuss among ourselves and St. Andrew’s College, but Council has not been privy to any of that information. And so this is once again a process issue. Since we didn’t want to come forward with a mid-year capital budget item as part of that report. We are asking Council to approve this; however, once again, this should be subject to […] coming back or the report outlining all the elements that are within the park, the funding model, which you do not see and any partnership arrangements that we might have with St. Andrew’s College.”
Mayor Mrakas: “Cllr Gallo maybe we just make this conditional upon further report that comes back to us. If everyone is good with that then we do that.”
Cllr Gallo: “Mr. Mayor, I am happy with that, I just don’t understand why we’ve put 200,000 dollars separate from the whole budget? Whether we are going to move forward with it or not move forward with it. The design and all that should be part of the whole ticket price. The 200,000 dollars really bothers me that is in isolation of the main project.”
Mr. Nadorozny, CAO: “The intention of bringing 200,000 dollars on this year’s budget was that if Council is supportive of, ultimately again of the whole design of the subdivision as well as the park and whatever partnership we can bring forward, then that would have the money in the budget for this fiscal year to do the planning since the park would likely not be started this year. And so that’s why we put the placeholder in the budget to commence planning should Council approve it. That planning would result in the final layout of the park and we complete estimate of what we expect the capital works to cost.”
Cllr Gallo: “I guess my question to you through Mr. Mayor is why is this any different than previous turf for one of the schools? That was, you know, lump sum, this is what was going to cost, design, everything, but this is different. What’s the difference?”
Ms. Wainwright-van Kessel, Director of Finance: “So when we look at requesting a capital budget authority, we look at the contractual commitments that need to be made at the time. So for this project in particular, we would not need to make a contractual commitment at this time for the construction of the project, but only the actual design work, the other artificial turfs that we’ve been discussing would have required a partnership agreement and long-term commitments, so that’s why the whole project cost was included.”
Cllr Gallo: “Still does not make sense. I stand to be corrected, I was around St. Max and it was a 1.5 million dollar. We didn’t go through this with separate design stuff with that, but it’s coming back to us. That’s fine. We’re not really doing much with it. And I’m not opposed to it. I wish it would have been, you know, big picture stuff, well, planned out with everything else that we’ve spent money on. So I’m happy to move it forward to have a better discussion and I look forward to more detail particularly around the funding sources.”
Cllr Kim (02:57:29) https://youtu.be/ZgfpEDosPnY: “Just so that we are clear. This sports field development strategy identified that we would need 19 fields with the deletion of the Stronach fields down the road. Staff confirmed that that figure the need for 19fields that doesn’t include St. Anne’s potential park.”
Robin McDougall, Director of Community Services: “So with the field strategy certainly with the loss of Magna, now the Stronach lands, it is 19 fields that we are losing come 2025 with the strategy of replacing that. I think it’s important to know that artificial turfs obviously it’s not 1 for 1. Artificial turfs definitely can supply more accommodations. In far as the Saint Anne’s lands that was not part of the scope of work originally. This would be certainly a benefit to service not only maybe the loss, supplement the loss, but also for growth as Aurora continues to grow.”
Cllr Kim: “Thank you. It is important to know that this was not part of those figures. The other two fields we discussed and the one that we’re going ahead with with GW. Some of the cost that has been discussed was …”
Cllr Gallo: “Point of order.”
Cllr Kim: “So regarding the budget items it looks like this field for it’s almost four and a half million. That seems excessive compared to other fields that other municipalities have constructed. So I would imagine that the only way to rationalize the sticker price is that we’re going to be purchasing the land based on this structure here and I guess part of it is, you know, cash in lieu of parkland, builder will give us the c.i.l. and us internally use that as an accounting item to purchase part land, but that still doesn’t account for a large sticker price. So if staff can provide a little bit of highlights in terms of the price tag. That will be great.”
Mr. Downey: “You’re absolutely correct. All that will be detailed in the staff report and give you a little bit information with regards to it. So one of the reasons that we have not presented this report to Council is because we actually haven’t got a park yet. We won’t have a park until a Council has approved the development and within that you will then be identifying a park. So in discussions with St. Andrew’s College, they have indicated what their needs are. Their artificial turf requirements are actually greater than Town standard.And so this is upgraded artificial turf field and in discussions with them and saying, well, if there’s a premium, then that premium should be paid by St. Andrew’s College. And all of that information will be part of the report that we will present the Council. So we’re somewhat premature bring this information to Council other than the fact that we want to make sure Council is fully aware that there’s a capital budget item on the books and the staff report will then be referring to that.”
Cllr Kim: “Thank you Mr. Downey. I can wait for the final report. I think I was just looking at other venues. I just had a little bit of a sticker shock in terms of the pricing based on the brief information that we have in front of us. Thank you very much.”
Cllr Gaertner: https://youtu.be/ZgfpEDosPnY?t=10998 “I agree with Cllr Gallo’s comments and Cllr Kim’s comments, but I would also like to add that we’ve never done a partnership with a private school. Usually private schools provide their own facilities. I’m uncomfortable with doing a partnership with a high-end school like this. It doesn’t sit well with me at all and I will wait for the report, but I’m not in favour at the moment for sure.”
Cllr Gilliland: “Most of the questions were answered other than the fact that we were talking about conditionally approving. If we were to conditionally approved tonight, is that going to hold anything up in this process through you Mr. Mayor to Mr. Downey?
Mayor Mrakas: “I don’t think it will. I think what has been said that nothing would move forward unless we approve the actual development. So there’s nothing that’s going to hold up, it’s conditional right now.”
Mr. Downey: “Through you Mr. Mayor could not have said it better myself. So exactly. So this is part of the process so it’s not holding up a thing.”
Cllr Gilliland: “Okay, perfect. So, I mean, saying that this is conditionally approved I feel there’s a comfort level around the table. Although I like the idea of, you know, any kind of partnership that we can at least find some sort of efficiencies with the lack of fields that we have. And if there’s a way that we can work together. I know there were at land deficit and I am interested in exploring, you know what those opportunities of like, so although we’re not really comfortable with what those figures look like, I would move to amended to at least we get that report back and we know what we’re dealing with. Someone else wants second that or a mover agrees.”
Mayor Mrakas: “Anyone else? Mr. Clerk can we moved that. Cllr Thompson you’ll take conditional. Cllr Gilliland? Okay, so it’s conditional. Cllr Gaertner second time.”
Cllr Gaertner: “Thank you. Just a question. I believe in the past we’ve bought land from a developer for park purposes. Certainly it would be more comfortable buying land and having the field on our own land, then how they got on private land, a comment.”