Ask Pat: Arenex Replacement

TM asked—

I understand that an interim structure is going to be built in Queens park as a temporary replacement for the Arenex. Is there any idea how much this new structure will cost and how much money will remain for a future building? As well, will the cost of demolition and 24/7 security monitoring of the old site be deducted from the money received from insurance?

I’m going to be a bit less definitive than usual in answering your questions, because City hasn’t made all of the decisions on this yet.

This would also be a good time to explain to folks that some discussions that take place between the City and suppliers (like insurance companies, building contractors, etc.) may be protected by Section 90 of the Community Charter. Under Provincial Law, there are some types of negotiations that happen between the City and private businesses that are necessarily kept secret so as to not put the City in a poor negotiating situation, expose the City to liability, or undermine the confidence of potential suppliers. The results of these “in-camera” discussions are always made public if and when a decision is made (we cannot spend any money without including it in our publicly-released financial documents, and our procurement processes are always released), but during the negotiations, it is commonly required to keep things under wraps. By Section 90, talking about “in-camera” discussions, even providing some details about what topics were discussed “in-camera“, is illegal until those discussions are raised out of “camera”

With that caveat in mind (whats with all the Latin today?) we did make an announcement back in June (which is around the time you sent in this Ask Pat – yes, I am sorry for not getting to it until now!) that we would fast-track the building of a “temporary” structure to replace the bulk of the Arenex functions, and that building should be operational in the summer of 2018. It will be about twice the size of the Arenex, which should make it a more usable space for some of the gymnastics programs, with some leftover space that may have flexible uses. This building should cost less than the insured replacement value of the Arenex, but at this point, I can’t really provide you exact numbers around this, because I haven’t seen those numbers.

An interesting point coming out of the work staff have been doing is that these “temporary” suspended steel structures have a design life of better than 20 years. They can last significantly longer with maintenance investments. The bigger advantage to us is that the site prep work is simpler than building a new “permanent” structure, and what you may lose in flexibility during the design and procurement stage, you get in efficiency of getting a building on-line. So it is possible that this “temporary” structure will provide gym spaces and other space for decades to come.

The City also went through a bit of a consultation process with stakeholders and an on-line survey back in May to guide us towards permanent solutions. The main questions were around how the Arenex loss should inform our plans for a Canada Games Pool replacement. I think CGP planning after the extensive consultation completed last year is coming along well (I am on the Mayor’s CGP Task Force), and I suspect we will be in a position to make some public announcements about that program before the end of the year. By then, we will have a better understanding about what programming will go where during the CGP/Centennial Community Centre replacement works, and where things will be when the work is completed. A “temporary” Arenex replacement opens up several options to maintain program continuity during the construction phase.

On our last question, I can only speak in generalities, but I have learned quite a bit since this event occurred about how the City insures its major assets. Insured building replacement value (which may or not be the true cost-of-replacement of the structure) is generally separate from other line items related to loss or damage to a building like business interruption,  demolition, contents, engineering reviews, liability, etc. Hence, coverage for security or demolition costs would not be deducted from the replacement cost of the building, just as ICBC would not typically deduct the cost of providing a rental car from your car’s replacement value if your car was stolen.

Ask Pat: Anvils and elephants

Duke of Belyea asks—

Hi Pat, perhaps the notion of the Anvil Center being a white elephant could be dispelled if you or the City could show the actual revenue/expense numbers for the facility.

First, on the premise, I disagree with you. Second, on the solution, I wish it was that simple.

I do not think critics of the Anvil Centre (or indeed critics of Council) will ever be convinced that it is anything but a white elephant. Specific residents of Coquitlam will write occasional long-winded factually-challenged screeds to the Record for some time, using the Anvil as an example of New Westminster’s failures, regardless of any success seen around or within the Anvil. That is just political bullshit theatre we need to live with, and facts will not change it, because the Anvil is more than building, it is a totem around which previous elections were fought and lost. Some people never stop fighting yesterday’s battles.

The premise further relies on measuring the success or failure of Anvil on a balance sheet of effort-in & revenue-out. I simply don’t see it that way. To explain that, we need to clarify what the Anvil is, and what a City does.

For one building, The Anvil Centre has purposes to fill a long paragraph (noting, for full disclosure, that I was not on Council when these conversations and decisions were made):

The Office Tower was conceived as an economic driver for Downtown, but since the City sold it off for more than it cost to build (success?), the City no longer had much say in how it is operated. The owners have every right to set their rent and manage their incentives any way they see fit, regardless of whether it serves the larger purposes of the City. The restaurant space is finally leased, and although later than we may have liked, I think we will have an operating restaurant that fills a niche in the City, brings attention to Columbia and 8th, and becomes a revenue driver for the City. I’m not sure how you measure the success of the shift of the Museum, Archives, and Lacrosse Hall of Fame to this venue. They have been relocated from various other locations to a central cultural hub, which also freed up space in those other venues. The New Media Gallery has quickly become one of the region’s most important artistic venues, drawing visitors and raves from around the region. Conference services are on or ahead of target for bookings and revenues, the program at the Theatre is (slowly) coming along, and the numerous arts and culture programs on the 4th floor are similarly starting to fulfill the original vision for activating the Arts in our City. All of these tangible purposes are wrapped up in the larger benefit of turning a windfall (the DAC funding) into a community asset to replace a failing retail strip at the renewed gateway to our central business district.

This brings us to your solution to the inevitable political push-back: a simple spreadsheet that outlines the costs and recoveries from the Anvil. I suppose it is doable, as the City’s Financial Plan and backing documents are openly reported, and every input and output is buried in those spreadsheets somewhere. But it would be really complicated, simply because the Anvil is not a single entity operating separate from the rest of the City.

The museum and archives have always cost money to operate; moving them to the Anvil doesn’t change that. The old Hall of Fame site is now home to a very popular and revenue-generating recreation program: is that success part of the Anvil, though it is located at the Centennial Community Centre? The City’s Arts Programmer works out of the Anvil, but also administers the City’s Public Art program, which is funded through a combination of fees, sales revenues, and taxes – how does that balance sheet overlap with Anvil’s? Even the Conference Services, which are a revenue-generation aspect of the Anvil, share resources with other departments (especially the theatre and our catering contractor), and rely on an integrated operation to be successful. There are staff who spend part of their time doing Anvil-related things, and part of their time working at other facilities, just as the toilet paper and photocopier toner at Anvil are bought as part of City-wide operations. The tax revenue for the office tower is higher than it was when the space was a one-story retail space, but that tax enters general revenue, and needs to be measured against opportunity cost if a private developer had taken over that site… the list goes on.

I guess it sounds like I am creating a list of excuses of why not, instead of addressing your original concern. Lyrical gentlemen from Coquitlam will accuse me of “spinning” the facts here for political reasons – the same way they would accuse any spreadsheet produced of doing the same thing. So if you want a spreadsheet to solve a political problem, I suggest it won’t work. So why spend valuable staff time producing it?

I tend to agree with one idea buried in your premise, and maybe an answer to that last question: we need to find a better way to share our financial information in the City. Although all reporting is “open”, I am afraid our efforts towards “transparency” is a little clouded by the complicated way that Public Service Accounting Standards are regulated and performed. Even as a City Councillor exposed to this stuff all day, I am sometimes challenged to create connections between line items in spreadsheets. There is a lot of Accountant Talk here, and with all due respect to the profession, they are no better than others at explaining to lay people just what the hell they are doing. I’m not sure what the answer is from a public engagement viewpoint, but suspect (hope?) we can do better. I’m just not sure it will ever be enough to satisfy some Letter-to-the-Editor authors, and maybe that shouldn’t be our goal. However, we do need to find ways to translate our financial reporting so residents and businesses can be confident that their money is being spent wisely.

I am pretty sure of one thing: any honest accounting would reveal the City spends more money on operations at the Anvil than it receives in revenue from Anvil operations. Just as it spends more money on the Canada Games Pool than revenue earned, or the all-weather playing field at Queens Park, or the Queensborough Community Centre, or the Library. I suppose there is a discussion that could be had about which of these operations community assets would need to show a financial profit to be considered “successful” in the City, but I don’t think that is where you were going with this question.

I also think there are improvements we can do to make Anvil run better, especially in opening up the first floor to more public use and making the entire centre more inviting. That is an ongoing discussion, and one very much worth having.

Ask Pat: The Sub

Eric asks—

Ahoy Capt. Re: Das Sub

Great the Quayside playground is up for a needed rebuild. Has “what do we do with the submarine” come up?

After all this item has quietly slipped into historic artefact/ community heritage resource status.

We all know it came from Expo ’86. What might not be as well known: it was from a West Edmonton Mall attraction (at the time the mall had more working subs than the Cdn. navy); at Expo it was part of the brilliant public art piece Highway ’86 by James Wise of SITE, a cutting edge design firm all us young architects were in awe of.

The sub was the largest of dozens of transportation, including a tricycle and an aeroplane, all painted matte grey and set on an undulating grey asphalt “road”.

How about we hand the sub over to the Public Art Cttee. to reprise/resurface it in a new location? Our local transpo crowd – including a certain councillor- might get right into it.

Yes, the topic of saving or moving the semi-Sub has come up. Staff have even spent a bit of time looking at potential options. However, at the risk of sounding like a boo-bird, I need to point out some of the significant technical challenges staff have related to me about trying to save and/or move the Sub.

The Sub can’t stay where it is. The storm drainage pipe under it needs to be excavated and replaced, that is not an optional thing, but something the City needs to get done before compete failure of the pipe and related flooding. Try trying to remove the sub in one piece presents several challenges (not to mention the unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase). It will need to be separated from the foundation built to support it, and the entire concrete-over-steel structure would have to be lifted and moved, which if not done with great care (read: expense) may end the entire “in one piece” part of the discussion.

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The Submarine itself would need extensive restoration if it was to be made a permanent art installation, as the steel is not in great shape based on the concrete delamination and spalling – the piece was built for a 6-month installation 30 years ago. The modifications of it to install it in the park (removal of the wings, installation of the railing) probably didn’t help, nor did the various coats of paint that are now peeling off of, regardless is whether the concrete overcoast comes with it or not. We currently have no budget for, and have not even had evaluated, the form of this restoration, however safe to say it will be significant.

We have nowhere to put the submarine. If we remove it, we would need to find a place to store it where it can be protected from the elements, and where restoration work can happen. Unless a generous benefactor with spare warehouse space was to come along, I’m not sure where we can do this.

Finally, and this is, unfortunately, the biggest issue with all of the above – we have very little time to get the pipe replacement work done. As much of the drainage involves an excavation within the wetted area of the river, the work needs to be done within a “fisheries window” – a short period of time when Fisheries and Oceans Canada have given us permission to do the work in order to minimize the disruption of fisheries habitat and the injury of fish. Again, this is not something we have any control over, and that is creating a very, very tight timeline for the work, and it will be starting very soon. An extra week or two to design, coordinate and execute a potentially delicate removal plan for a piece we have no long-term plans for would be perilous. Never mind trying to find the (estimated – with significant contingency) tens of thousands of dollars to do the removal work.

As for the Heritage value, there already was a preliminary assessment of the Sub. The value is considered very limited and “sentimental”, but not representing a significant heritage artifact. Its provenance is not New Westminster, and it is separated from its context. Although there are legends about a connection to West Edmonton Mall, in reality the submarine was the only machine of the 200 that made up the Highway 86 installation that wasn’t a real, operating machine before it was installed. It is a semi-sub; half of a fake boat. The “U” in this U-boat stands for “Unecht”. You get the message.

That said, on kitsch value alone I’m not opposed to the idea, and wish we had more time to allow someone passionate about such a plan to cook up a solution to the above concerns. Problem is, this project has been discussed and on the books for many months (including a few public consultation rounds and public meetings), and the topic of saving the submarine has not been put forward as an important component of the engineering work or playground replacement. I also touched bases with a few people in the Publci Art realm, and they were… underwhelmed. Unfortunately, we are now well past the eleventh hour, and jeopardizing the timeline and budget of the planned work for the site at this point would be irresponsible.

So in sumary, I’m going to suggest this is an interesting idea, likely impractical, definitely costly, and probably undoable considering the pressures on the City to get the engineering work at the Quayside done. I would suggest the submarine is finally heasded off towards the sunny horizon it has pointed at for more than a generaiton: the metal recycling and junkyards south of the Fraser.

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ASK PAT: The Timber Wharf

Daniel asks—

Can we do something with the giant paved lot near Westminster Pier Park (where the shipping container W is)? It’s such a waste of space. Westminster Pier Park is amazing but i think the area could really use more grass space to lay down, play some bocce, toss a football around etc…Another suggestion would be providing additional basketball court(s), tennis courts. There is a real dearth of outdoor sport facilities in the downtown area. Could this empty lot not be temporarily re-purposed into any of these things rather than just the empty black surface it is now? Love what the city has done by putting volleyball courts adjacent to that lot, but are there plans to re-purpose the other lot as well?

We call that part of the park the “Timber Wharf”. My understanding of the history of the space (and this was before my time on Council) is that it was originally going to be programmed as part of the Pier Park project, but that got scaled back during the park development because of unexpected environmental remediation costs that stressed the budget, and generally unfavorable geotechnical assessments for that part of the wharf. The underpinnings are not in great shape, and are going to need some repairs and upgrades before the space is permanently programmed or anything heavy is placed on it, hence the temporary installations there now.

The longer-term plan is to program that space, which will make it more amenable for some of the uses you describe, but I think the priorities for spending right now are in trying to connect the park to the east to complete that part of the waterfront connection to Sapperton Landing and the Brunette River. The capital cost of upgrading the timber wharf isn’t in the budget right now, so I suspect the “permanent” fix is going to have to wait a few years.

In the shorter term, I would love to hear suggestions about temporary programming. We are pretty limited in regards to installing anything of significant mass (the engineering hassles with WOW New West were… substantial), and are even unlikely to be able to smooth the asphalt surface much, but paint and temporary installations are possible if we can find a bit of room the Parks budget.

This also gives me a chance to promote two cool things going on in that area in the very short term – like right now!.

Through a partnership with Live 5-2-1-0, Kids New West, Fraser Health, and School District 40, a Play box is being installed at the Timber Wharf. This is a box full of toys, balls, and outdoor games to help kids get active and have fun in the relatively un-programmed space. It is free to use, and will be opened every morning and re-secured at night. This is the first time this public playbox program has come to New West, although it has been successful in a few other nearby municipalities. If you have kids, take them down and see what may emerge!

There is no better time to go down to the Timber Wharf and check it out than during the Pier2Landing street party coming up on June 19th. We are going to be encouraging people to take advantage of the currently-closed stretch of Front Street that connects the east end of the Pier Park with the west end of Sapperton Landing Park. There will be live entertainment and arts and booths and a BBQ and the usual street festival stuff, but there will also be a lot of open road space on Front where you can bring your own entertainment (road hockey, anyone?). We can look ahead to a me when these two waterfront parks are connected by an urban greenway. Or we can dream of a time when Front Street is no longer a regional through-fare, but is an active street connecting residents to the waterfront – even those who choose to not strap themselves to a couple of tonnes of carbon-spewing steel and plastic first…

Dare to dream.

Ask Pat: Crappy Park

Someone asked—

Hi Pat, I am just inquiring about Sullivan Park on Oliver Street here in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood. It is a lovely park and really close to our home. However, I am noticing that there is a lot of dog dropping being left all around the park. I am not sure if this particular park is monitored but something needs to be done. It is horrible. I refuse to take my 14 month old there anymore as I am worried he is going to fall into it.. or worse. Anything you can do for us?

Shh! I didn’t think we were allowed to talk about Sullivan Park. It’s one of those neighbourhood secrets that we aren’t supposed to let anyone know about.

One general rule about a persistent dog-crap problem in a location is that it is probably just one person. Most dog owners are responsible and don’t want crap lying around any more than the rest of us, but one or two bad apples definitely can result in a lot of… uh… road apples. Unfortunately, catching that one person is probably near impossible.

My first suggestion is to use SeeClickFix when you run into a problem like this, to make sure it gets onto the City operations radar. If you aren’t a smart-phone lover, you can use this on-line form to make sure your issue gets tracked and followed up on. Or call Parks, Culture and Recreation at 604-527-4567.

What can Parks do? That is definitely a small park, and we have limited staff, so 24-hour patrols are not likely in the offing. I am not as familiar with Sullivan Park as my Queens Park neighbours, but having a doggie station with a ready source of collection bags, trash receptacle and signage will usually help most people do the right thing – if the park doesn’t have these at the one or two most common entry point, that may help. Of course, it may also encourage more people to see Sullivan as an unofficial “dog run”, which comes with its own issues.

As it is a unique spot, with a relatively small group of users (until you went and let the secret out!), it might be interesting to see if the neighbourhood has any ideas how to approach the issue. Better signage? Neighbourhood dog-watch? As a non-dog owner, I’m happy to hear suggestions!