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Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games construction off track, says lobbyist

Ian Harvey

Construction plans and contracts for the 2015 Pan Am Games are woefully bloated and running behind schedule says the man who helped bring the event to Toronto. But the red flags from former Olympian sailor Paul Henderson, a key figure in both the failed Toronto Olympic bid and the successful Pan Am Games, are being shrugged off by Infrastructure Ontario (IO) while the consensus in the construction industry is that it’s a yellow flag, if anything.

In a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Henderson says the scope of the Games; their attendant “soft costs” such as policing and the infrastructure required have either been under-estimated or overblown and is predicting a disaster unless swift action is taken now.

“The escalation, as a direct cost to the taxpayer in the budget, could well be from $1.4 billion to over $2.5 billion if all costs are added in,” he wrote.

“It will approach $4 billion if the Athletes’ Village is also added to the total outlay. Although some of the costs of the Athletes’ Village may be recoverable it should be noted that the Vancouver 2010 Village had a major deficit.”

He also says ongoing maintenance and operating costs could run $100 million a year for the planned installations and that some hard thinking has to be done now.

Henderson also sounded the alarm over the lack of contracts being signed for construction.

“It is over two years since Toronto was awarded 2015 Pan and Parapan Games,” he said.

“No firm contracts have been signed with either the various construction consortia or with the stakeholders who represent the many levels of taxpayers’ dollars that will fund and operate the multitude of venues.”

Ontario General Construction Association president Clive Thurston, however, said his members aren’t unduly worried.

“I would say its business as usual,” he said.

“The process has only just begun and the only thing decided, really, is the Athletes’ Village,” added Thurston.

“I’ve not heard any negativity from the members, we’re in touch with Infrastructure Ontario and the process is proceeding so we’re not worried.”

Toronto Construction Association president John Mollenhauer was similarly nonplussed but said there is some buzz among members that they’d like to see traction.

“There’s lots of talk but it is early days,” said Mollenhauer.

“I wouldn’t describe it as a public outcry, they just want to get going but that’s the nature of the construction industry. Contractors often find they end up with too little time at the end of project and blame it on taking too long at the start.”

So far Henderson’s warnings and suggestions to stop reinventing the wheel in the design and construction of facilities and to double up usages of venues, instead of permanent swimming pools and other structures, and to build temporary structures, have not prompted any reaction at Queen’s Park, except among opposition MPPs looking to sling mud at the government.

With Ontario running a $16 billion annual deficit and carrying $241 billion debt, it can ill afford to get mired in cost over runs for the Games but IO insists everything is under control and that Henderson’s numbers are “outdated.”

An IO spokesman referred further question to TO2015 which responded with a written statement:

“TO2015 is working diligently with the funding partners and within the $1.4 billion budget established in 2010. TO2015’s business plan is currently in review with the federal and provincial governments. Recent cost escalation accusations are inaccurate and unfounded. Given the investment, profile and scope of this project, there is a rigorous process in place to ensure value and efficiency across all facets of the plan.”

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