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Auditorium bill jumps

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Town council learned Monday night that the cost estimates for the proposed auditorium at Westfort have jumped by almost $400,000 more than it expected in less than four years, prompting councillors to take a second look at the project’s design.

And they wants answers by next Monday when a special council meeting will be held.

John Dutton, co-chair of the Community Auditorium Committee, told council Monday night that unexpected architect and construction manager fees are mainly to blame for the increase—something he said the committee was only made aware of Sept. 16 when it met with the managing architect.

Project estimates from November, 1993—obtained from the auditorium committee—showed that these fees were included in the $2.071 million price tag.

But by April, 1997, the architect and construction manager fees were listed at $242,600 and $86,377 respectively, with the total cost now estimated at $2.477 million.

Although the latest total cost includes $72,148 in GST and a $75,000 contingency fund (which the $2.071 million figure did not include four years ago), the cost for the 66 extra seats the committee wants added to the auditorium to bring its total capacity to 500 is not.

And Dutton said the committee was only told Sept. 10 that would cost another $154,000—not the $70,000 figure it went to council with last June.

He’s hoping council will kick in to cover the extra cost.

“We’re in a situation right now where we cannot proceed with the plans we have unless we get addition help from council on this funding,” Dutton said, adding the committee would continue its fundraising efforts.

If the auditorium was built for $2 million ($1.5 million from the town and $500,000 the auditorium committee already has raised in pledges), Dutton warned the town would have an empty building and still be $100,000 short.

He feared if the town didn’t give a guarantee on the additional funding, the community would end up with an auditorium that was non-functional until it could come up with additional dollars in the future.

Community Services manager George Bell noted the latest budget assumed there would be no winter construction, which would add even more to the cost.

Dutton stressed the clock was ticking, adding they were being pushed by the architect because they wanted to resume pile driving.

But councillors weren’t eager to sign over the extra cash without finding some answers. Coun. George Blanc, for one, stressed this was the third time the auditorium committee came to the town with escalating costs.

“I think you’re going to be back for more money as time goes on,” he noted, asking what was so crucial about the 66 extra seats to merit adding another $155,000 to the project.

“Somewhere along the line, somebody’s got to retrench and say this is becoming cost prohibitive.”

But Chris Denby, co-chair of the auditorium committee, pointed out the committee already had said it would come up with $70,000 of that.

The auditorium committee was slated to meet today and again Friday with Bell, Coun. Bruce Armstrong, CAO Bill Naturkach, and Administration and Finance manager Darryl Allan to see if they can bring down the costs of the auditorium portion of the “multi-use” facility.

They’re also hoping to meet with the construction manager to find out why the costs have jumped. Then at a special meeting set for Sept. 22, councillors will look at their options for the town’s portion of the “multi-use” project.

Construction manager Phil St. Cyr could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, neither the Fort Frances-Rainy River Board of Education or Confederation College are expecting their costs on the project to climb further. John McLeod, director of education for the public school board, said the board added 10 percent for inflationary costs to its portion last May.

And before that, the college downsized its building by about 20 percent to stay within its $2-million grant from the Ministry of Education and Training. The original building was 14,000 sq. ft. With the redesign, the college will be 11,000 sq. ft.

“So we cut by about 3,000 [sq.] feet,” noted Don Lovisa, manager of the college campus here.

McLeod added the town hadn’t made any changes yet to cope with those inflationary costs.

But Dutton wasn’t sure what could be cut to help bring down the auditorium’s costs.

“When looking for some way of cutting costs to make this a more manageable number, we were told that our original design had so many cost-savings incorporated into it that there was nowhere to cut,” Dutton explained.

One option that’s not there, Naturkach noted, was pulling out of the project altogether. He said the town had a signed agreement with both the college and board as a third partner.

Despite having to wait a week to find out what council was going to do, Dutton was optimistic they could come up with a solution.

“They want to see this happen as much as we do," he noted. "We just have to come up with an agreement as to what the finished project is going to look like.”

And what still isn’t known is if the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. will kick in dollars for the auditorium project. Co-chair Michael Power said yesterday the board was trying to come up with a policy as it received about four different applications for auditorium funding.

Power added the board was meeting tomorrow, and felt he would know more next week.

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