New Crystal Pool: maybe it’ll cost $90 million, not $70 million

A watchdog group is citing previously unreleased consultants’ reports to suggest the Crystal Pool replacement could cost closer to $90 million — significantly more than the $69.4 million Victoria has budgeted.

But city officials maintain that the project is still in development and they are still working within the $69.4-million envelope.

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“The problem with this $70 million is it’s misleading,” said Stan Bartlett, chairman of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria.

“Unless council decides to scale back the design and scope of the project as it exists today, it’s a disingenuous number. The public has a right to know the likely cost of this next big mega-capital project.”

Both Mayor Lisa Helps and parks director Thomas Soulliere said costs are being refined as the city drills into detailed design and different elements of the project but the overall $69.4-million figure has not changed.

“The work that’s been done to date is to bring a pool in that costs no more than $69.4 million,” Helps said. “This project is based on everything we learned not to do on the Johnson Street Bridge project.” The cost of the bridge was originally estimated at $63 million and is now expected to cost at least $105 million.

For Crystal Pool, the current budget was developed in 2016, with the building construction component alone pegged at $35.1 million.

But city-hired quantity surveyors Advicas Group Consultants and Ross Templeton Associates have said the current design could add $8.8 million to $11.1 million to the $35.1-million estimate.

Advicas estimated the design would cost $43.9 million to build, and Ross Templeton said it would cost $46.2 million.

“No one in our team expected that to be necessarily right on the budget number or below,” Soulliere said. “In fact, it’s very typical for these estimates to be higher than maybe what you’re expecting. From there we put our consultants and designers to work to more specifically refine the specifications and the key assumptions” to meet budget objectives, he said.

Helps stressed that the original project cost estimates include significant contingencies so there will be no surprises.

“This project has a 30 per cent construction contingency and a 20 per cent contingency for cost escalation to the point of construction. So 50 per cent of the budget is a contingency budget,” Helps said.

City administrators had the consultants’ reports that estimated higher costs but didn’t share them with city councillors in a July update.

The Grumpy Taxpayer$ said the costs will be much higher than even the consultants’ estimates.

“Everybody has a different number. Mayor and council talk about a $70-million pool budget. The administration talks about as much as $80 million. The Grumpys figure it’s probably closer to $90 million,” Bartlett said. He pointed to what he believes are omissions in estimates for millions of dollars in costs for items such as a project manager, construction contingency, consultants’ fees, not to mention the potential for millions for underground parking if that’s approved.

The city released the reports after the taxpayers’ group asked for them.

Soulliere said that as design revisions are made and some unknowns (such as the depth of the bedrock) become knowns, contingencies shrink.

“The contingency gets allocated. So for things that we get more information, there’s a portion of that contingency that gets allocated to a specific budget line.”

Helps said the pool will be ready for tender by the end of the year.

“When the bridge was sent out to contract it was 30 per cent designed at best. When the pool goes out for tender it will be at 100 per cent design.”

She said there was no reason for staff to provide council with the technical reports prepared by Advicas and Ross Templeton.

“The quantity surveyors are there to help us. Exactly that. Council has given a mandate for $69.4 million. The quantity surveyors are there to help staff make sure they meet council’s financial objective for the project.”

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