Council approves tender to design 4,500 seat arena despite concerns from councillors about review transparency

The site of the new indoor recreation centre, and 4,500 seat arena. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert city council has awarded the contract to design a new WHL-size arena to BBB Architects and KSA Architects of Toronto and Saskatoon, despite concerns from at least one councillor that the process was not open or transparent.

Council voted 6-3 in favour of BBB and KSA, the firm city administrators recommended as the top bid out of the 14 received after the City put out call for proposals. The contract will cost the City an estimated $3.2-million.

Couns. Tony Head, Charlene Miller and Terra Lennox-Zepp all voted against the project. Head was the decision’s most vocal critic. He said more consideration should have been given to local companies when awarding the design, and argued administration favoured certain companies over others instead of providing an objective review.

Head told council he was offended local engineering and design companies weren’t given more consideration, and pointed to AODBT Architecture and Prakash Consulting Ltd. as two local companies he said were capable of doing the job. Head added that he spoke to neither company before Monday’s meeting, and said they were unaware he was using them as examples.

“Administration picked their favourites in the first go around and just used the same names to make their selection in the second go around,” Head said during Monday’s meeting. “This is not how we do things.”

Head said AODBT has designed junior hockey arenas across Western Canada, as well as swimming pools and other buildings. AODBT’s website includes a list of corporate, residential, retail, government and community design projects. Merlis Belsher Place in Saskatoon, Chief Denton George Memorial Multiplex in Ochapowace First Nation, and the Legends Centre in Warman are the only rinks listed under the recreation projects tab.

Merlis Belsher Place hosts the University of Saskatchewan’s men’s hockey team, as well as the U-18 AAA Stars and U-18 AAA Contacts. The Legends Centre hosts Warman’s new U-18 AAA hockey team.

Head said council needed to send a strong message to administration that it was important to have qualified Prince Albert companies participating in the project.

Mayor Greg Dionne rejected the notion that administration was acting inappropriately but recommending companies without offices in Prince Albert. He said provincial trade agreements require Prince Albert to consider bids from outside Saskatchewan, and added that the City may be in legal trouble if it favours local companies.

Trade agreements like the New West Partnership, which was signed by Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, prohibits all municipalities, school divisions, crown corporations and provincial ministries from giving favourable treatment to goods and services suppliers in their own regions.

Last October, construction associations from Alberta and British Columbia filed complaints about local preference clauses they claimed were appearing in tenders put out by the Saskatchewan government. Manitoba premier Brian Pallister even sent a letter to Scott Moe asking Saskatchewan to remove those clauses from public procurement contracts, and support the free flow of goods and services across provincial borders.

“I breath local and I support local, but at the end of the day, when you have a big project like that, you have to bid through the tri-party agreement, which is the three provinces, and everyone has the right to bid,” Dionne said.

Dionne added that companies were required to bid on all three new recreation projects, and not just the WHL-size rink. He also said the City wasn’t allowed to scrap the bids they received and start the process over just because they wanted more local content.

Head said he remained unconvinced administration was giving local companies a fair chance.

“I don’t think anyone can give me a good answer as to why AODBT is not qualified to build the arena. They are qualified,” he told council. “In fact, I’d go as far as to propose that no other company would take as much pride in building an arena as one whose kids will be using it, whose friends and families will be watching it go up, who themselves will be going out there to watch our home teams take on the competition.”

Public Works Director Wes Hicks said all 14 bids were evaluated independently by multiple city staff. Those scores were then combined, with the top five companies being asked for an interview.

Hicks was adamant no city employees met to discuss the proposals until it was time to combine the scores. Company scores were give for experience (out of 15 points), team qualifications (15 points), team leader qualifications (15 points), project methodology (20 points), schedule (five points), requested documents (five points) and fees (25 points).

“Once (the score) was tallied up, it was pretty clear who was leading the pack with the most points,” he told council. “From that, we came up with the shortlist.”

Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp said she was also concerned about a lack of transparency in the bid process. She said the City hasn’t done enough work to make an informed decision, but was just as concerned about how the City will pay for the project.

“As a City, we have borrowed millions of dollars to make this a go,” she said during the meeting. “To consider more public funds at this stage, I think, is premature. We need to consider how we are going to pay down the debt we’ve borrowed so far.”

The City is already on the hook for $16-million the new recreation centre’s first phase. Those funds will help pay for two indoor rinks and a new indoor aquatics centre. The City has asked for quotes on building a 4,500 seat arena, which is estimated to cost around $60-million.

Mayor Greg Dionne was adamant the City needs to complete the design work before an accurate cost is known, and it can begin thinking about payment.

“We’re looking to get the price so we know how much money it is, and then we’ll start fundraising,” he said.

Lennox-Zepp said she wasn’t convinced the public wanted to spend more than $3-million on a new design, and suggested council look at renovating existing facilities instead of building a new rink.

“If you look at the community services master plan, an arena is not the number one item that is determined by that work, and a lot of work goes into these community master plans,” she said. “What ranks number one is youth drop-in centres…. The motion is to spend public funds, and I’m encouraging members of council to consider where we should be spending these funds, and to consider public consultation so we can find out what the public wants before we are spending the money.”

The Western Hockey League (WHL) has introduced new regulations requiring all clubs to play in arenas with a seating capacity of at least 4,500. The Prince Albert Raiders’ current home, the Art Hauser Centre, has room for 3,289 fans (combined seating and standing space). The WHL also required clubs to upgrade their boards and lighting. Those renovations have already been made to the Art Hauser Centre.

Lennox-Zepp and Miller also expressed concerns about the City’s plan to dip into facility reserves to help pay the architectural design fees.

Miller argued taking money from the reserves essentially meant the project wasn’t funded, and told council the reserves should go to other projects.