City looks to future while fixing “deficiencies” in $13.5M Centennial Park project

The Suncor Agora in Sarnia’s Centannial Park. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

Problems that dogged the $13.5-million Centennial Park remediation project can be traced to Sarnia not having an internal project manager on the job, the CAO has concluded.

“We did not have the proper tools, positions, staff and resources in-house to actually manage this project efficiently and effectively from start to end. That’s what it came down to,” Chris Carter told The Journal.

“Project management is really your backbone when dealing with special projects, especially special projects that have a high price tag to it.”

Carter spent the summer at council’s request revisiting the park cleanup, which was plagued with delays and unforeseen costs. His conclusions were contained in a report to council on Oct. 27.

In response, council asked Carter to prepare a report on an in-house project manager. Such a person, who normally has industry certification, gives a municipality greater control over large projects and the ability to monitor budgets in real time, he said.

Centennial Park was closed in 2013 after oil, asbestos and lead were detected in the soil, likely from industrial fill dumped in the 1960s. Following public consultations, council agreed to a three-phase process forecast to cost $4.5 million to $6 million.
Golder Associates was hired to oversee the work, but was let go with a $1-million handshake in late 2017.

The Canadian firm, which had a long and positive history with Sarnia, hired Bre-X Construction to regrade the 38-acre park, build a stone shoreline, and relocate its popular municipal boat launch.

Construction delays and cost overruns followed, fuelling community anger and adding to existing tensions at City Hall. A divided council was already grappling with a workplace investigation of the mayor and the sudden passing of engineering director Andre Morin.

Council also agreed last week to hire a landscape architect to begin design work to address complaints about lingering “deficiencies” at Centennial Park.

They include the Suncor Agora, which has poor acoustics, no seating or protection from the elements, lacks accessibility, and has a stage that faces the setting sun.

A monument to the Victims of Chemical Valley was not properly replaced, despite a commitment made by the city to the local advocacy group.

And there are ongoing electrical, water and drainage concerns.

“There’s a few things that might not have been installed accordingly,” Carter said.

“This isn’t a huge, huge undertaking. We’re not looking at rebuilding the whole park or anything along those lines,” he said.

“This is more of just looking at little minor details… and ensure that the user groups are happy with what’s down there.”

On the other hand, park users have told City Hall the gardens and walkways are well maintained, and the new boat ramps, despite embarrassing delays, are well built and easy to use.

Carter, who joined the city as CAO on April 1, said he wouldn’t comment on the decisions of prior administrations.

“I don’t really focus on the past,” he added. “At the end of the day, who was and who wasn’t, isn’t for me to comment.”