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Library debacle offers cautionary tale

The Jasper Library and Cultural Centre. P. Clarke photo

The Jasper Library and Cultural Centre. P. Clarke photo

As the municipality sets its sights on its next multi-million dollar foray to renovate the Jasper Activity Centre, it’s hard not to wonder whether history will end up repeating itself.

For those who may have forgotten, here’s a refresher.

In November 2011 construction got under way to renovate and expand the Library and Cultural Centre.

At the time council budgeted $7.5 million and was told it would be completed by the winter of 2013.

As we now know, that never happened.

Almost as soon as construction got underway contractors began to find surprise after surprise in the old library building, pushing the project more than $1 million over budget within the first year.

As costs began to spiral out of control, former town manager Peter Waterworth told council experts were “shocked” by what they found once they started to renovate the building, but it didn’t stop there.

Over the course of the next four years the contractor had to replace the building’s roof, walls, floors, stairs, windows and mechanical system after they were all improperly installed.

In the process deadlines came and went and people started to point the finger.

The end result was a library that was three-and-a-half years behind schedule and $1.5 million over budget.

If all of this sound like a bad dream, it isn’t. It actually happened and it could happen again if the municipality is not careful.

Last week council got its first look at a $13.4-million proposal to renovate the activity centre.

On the surface just about everyone can agree that the activity centre is starting to show its age and will need some upgrades and repairs, but there are a lot of lingering questions that need to be answered.

The first question is how the municipality is going to ensure there is enough oversight to avoid cost overruns and blown deadlines?

After the library debacle, the public deserves some sort of guarantee that the same sort of issues that plagued the library won’t happen again.

Can you imagine if the arena was closed for five-and-a-half years what that would do to Jasper’s minor sports teams? It’s unthinkable, yet worthy of discussion given what happened in the past.

Adding fuel to the fire, the estimated cost of the project has already jumped from $6.63 million in December to $13.4 million in March, raising serious questions about the cost of the project before it has even gotten underway.

To make matters worse, that doesn’t account for the amount of money the municipality has already spent renovating the facility over the past few years, only to turn around to renovate it again.

The best example is the Zamboni room, which cost $135,000 to renovate and expand in 2016. That project included a water treatment system and a gas line for the new Zamboni. These two improvements cost approximately $100,000 and will remain in use regardless of where the Zamboni room ends up.

The proposal now suggests it should be relocated to the other side of the arena along side four new change rooms for an estimated cost of just over $2 million.

If that’s not enough to give you pause, to date nothing has been said about public consultations. That in itself should be a red flag.

With so much at stake lets hope the municipality is prepared to answer these questions and has learned from its past so we don’t have to find out if history will end up repeating itself.

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