Breaking: Auditor General to examine BC Place renovation fiasco

B.C. Auditor General John Doyle will take a closer look at the costs of the controversial BC Place Stadium renovation, it was revealed January 18.

B.C. Auditor General John Doyle will take a closer look at the costs of the controversial BC Place Stadium renovation, it was revealed January 18.

NDP critic Spencer Chandra Herbert appealed to the government's spending watchdog in a January 11 letter for a value-for-money audit after Business in Vancouver revealed a five-year-old confidential letter from the chairman of BC Pavilion Corp. to Vancouver's city manager. That January 22, 2008, letter by David Podmore said the project would be "in the order of $100 million," including replacement of the air-supported roof.

Last August, the BC Liberal government claimed the final cost was $514 million, which included a German-engineered, spoke-and-wheel retractable roof.

"What was the original business case for this project, and why did the Liberals feel it was the best use of B.C. tax dollars?" asked Chandra Herbert in his letter. "How will the BC Liberal government recover its half-billion-dollar investment in B.C. Place, and how did this project stray so far from its original budget?"

Doyle responded in a January 16 letter, that said: "As a result of your request, we will be performing a fact-finding exercise. In the event that a satisfactory explanation is not readily forthcoming, the Auditor General may choose to do further work."

Chandra Herbert called Doyle's letter "great news."

"I was surprised to hear that indeed he was proceeding this way," he told BIV. "Quite often the Auditor General's office doesn't say what they're working on. He may proceed to a fuller investigation and we may not know.

"Pulling apart the fine web the Liberals have woven on the budget and whole project is going to require some pulling of facts before any fuller work can proceed anyways," Chandra Herbert said.

In April 2008, PavCo contractors estimated the cost of a renovation that included the German-engineered retractable roof would be $253 million, but delayed the complex job until after the 2010 Winter Olympics.

At a September 4, 2008, news conference, Podmore declined to comment on the cost to replace the roof of the 1983-opened stadium, but announced a $65 million, pre-Olympic refurbishment of the concession stands, washrooms and suites, an increase to wheelchair accessibility and addition of club seating. Podmore told media that the new roof would be installed by June 2011.

On January 9, 2009, the government announced a $365 million budget for the project, but that increased to $563 million before the year ended.

Major delays with installing the cable roof support system forced construction workers to miss the June 2011 deadline and rush to the September 30, 2011, reopening. Despite repairs last summer, the roof is still suffering rainwater leaks.

Attempts to find private revenue to defray the cost of the project have failed. A proposed casino/hotel development remains in limbo and the naming rights sponsorship deal with Telus was cancelled last February. A $49 million operational loss was forecast for the next three years.

Doyle's term as Auditor General ends this year and his future is uncertain. A Liberal-majority committee met in secret last fall and opted against giving him another six-year term. On January 16, Premier Christy Clark buckled to criticism and said she hoped the committee would offer Doyle a two-year extension while the government amends the law to allow an eight-year, non-renewable term for the next Auditor General.

Meanwhile, lawyers for roof contractors Canam Group and Freyssinet are scheduled to be back in BC Supreme Court on January 21 to continue a case management hearing in their lawsuit over cost overruns. The court is expected to hear whether an insurance company will pay for an estimated $15 million damage to the roof caused by grease that leaked form cables supplied by Switzerland's Geobrugg. France-based cable specialist Freyssinet sued Quebec steel company Canam for $6.5 million in 2011 and Canam countersued for $26.14 million. PavCo and general contractor PCL Constructors Westcoast are defendants. A marathon 20-week trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 21.

BMackin@biv.com

@bobmackin

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