MORRISBURG – Erecting a new campground building in Iroquois, one to replace the existing outdated building and the crumbling Forward House, has proved to be more difficult than erecting a six-man tent in the dark during horse-fly season.
But deep from the wilderness has emerged a beacon of sorts to shed light on the situation – albeit at the cost of due process.
When South Dundas council met Tues., June 5 they were faced with the task of starting from scratch once again on the proposed $350,000 building after council defeated a motion in May to award a contract to Engineering For Industry’s (EFI) to oversee the design and build of a new structure to the tune of $57,170.
Led by Deputy-Mayor Jim Locke, council believed the cost of retaining EFI was too high, leaving the municipality with less than $300,000 to construct a multi-purpose building.
Director of recreation and facilities Ben Macpherson met with stakeholders Tues., May 29 and provided council with a report detailing the desired services the seasonal building would contain, including accessible washrooms that are open to the public, a covered patio, storage space for lawn bowling and the airport, an office for the campground attendant that will also hold tourism information for visitors to the area, a full-service kitchen and windows with a view. Mentioned in the report was that local entrepreneur John Ross, who was in the audience at the council session, had offered to provide draft design sketches of the building that could be forwarded to the architect for engineered design.
Macpherson notified council that he had received an email late the previous evening and that, “two of the stakeholder groups had apparently met over the past week and are looking at a different location than what was agreed upon last week.”
After this declaration it quickly became apparent that this was not the only meeting that had been held unbeknownst to municipal staff and some members of council.
Locke declared that he and Ross had met for nearly an hour earlier that day to discuss in depth details and drawings concerning the new proposed building. The end result was a proposal for council.
“I must say I’m impressed with the details of this plan that he has put together. It’s all come about because of meeting with the stakeholders and listening to them,” said Locke. “John has a proposal for us. He will draft detailed drawings, engage a drafting firm, prepare plans meeting all municipal requirements ready for tender. He will work with staff in awarding the tender and supervise the project. The cost of all of that will be $1.”
As it turns out, Mayor Evonne Delegarde was also privy to a one-on-one meeting with Ross and she was equally impressed.
“John’s proposal is kind of where I think we have to have further discussion. Council did not wish to pursue the heavy cost of hiring an engineer from last meeting so this is an alternative and is being presented to council to discuss and to, um, and to decide on a formal basis,” she said.
Not to be outdone, Councillor Bill Ewing admitted that Ross had paid him a visit at his residence the previous night to gain insight into the services at the proposed site.
“I brought to his attention where the hydro water and sewer was and where it could fall in the building. The layout he has proposed, personally, I think it’s a great spot for it. Just where it all goes is up to council,” he said.
It was at this point, as Ewing was describing his early morning visit to the potential site, that forlorn councillor Marc St. Pierre raised his hand.
“Can I interrupt here? We have not been part of any discussions so we’re getting into the details, but is there a sketch or something that can be passed along? I don’t mean to offend anybody, but Councilor Mellan and I are sitting in the dark,” said St. Pierre.
After a brief word from clerk Brenda Brunt, Delegarde attempted to steer the discussion back onto the initial report tabled by Macpherson.
“Okay, let’s first deal with this. What kind of amenities – that’s basically what the resolution is – what amenities would you want in the campground element and then we could move further,” said Delegarde.
To which St. Pierre replied, “but isn’t it part and parcel with what Mr. Ross has already created in some sketches?”
In the interest of including the rest of council and municipal staff on the current discussion and despite warnings from Brunt that she was breaking council procedure, Delegarde asked Ross to step forward and briefly explain his plan.
“John if I could have you maybe just, kind of quickly, maybe five minutes, um, just to kind of overview so that we could bring councillor Mellan and St. Pierre up to speed,” she said.
Conveniently, Ross had six copies of his proposed plan and a polished pitch at the ready.
“I should say first this is not a casual sketch. This is a fully engineered solution,” said Ross. “I have done five passes on this. This is a really satisfactory pass. This is not an amateur process. I used an architectural program. In fact, I can walk through this building on my computer. Same program I used to totally redesign my house.”
Ross provided a room-by-room description detailing the reasons behind the layout, locations and functionality of each.
It was clear that Ross had done extensive work in consulting interested parties, customizing the layout, and researching building codes and requirements. What wasn’t clear was the overall cost of the proposed design or the exact location of the new building.
“The expense is the washrooms and all the other facilities. Don’t be concerned about the size of the building. That’s one of the things that when I started estimating costs I found it’s not worth discussing. If you can get a multi-purpose room, that’s great. I think this will give you a terrific building that is superior to anything. It covers all the needs for many years,” said Ross.
The local retired entrepreneur had the attention of council and used the opportunity to present a difficult to ignore proposal.
“I will handle all of the things the consultant did or is to do, right through to all of the consultation repeatedly with the stakeholders to make sure nothing is missed and everyone is brought up to date. Also, that all of the drawings are prepared to suitable standard to be able to send them out for bids – meaning, municipal standards. And I will provide supervision of the construction on site,” he said. “If we have a contract to do this, I want $5.60, and I mean it. Because I want that money to go into making the building better, I want it into going into replacing the lighting for the lawn bowling, giving them a new service building, giving them a place to sit and we can cover it.”
The question of the total cost was again presented clearly to Ross by St. Pierre.
“We believe we can build this building for less than [$350,000] Mr. Ross?” he asked.
To which Ross replied, “remember you’ve also got $56,000 to improve the situation. Also I’ve looked at the possible schedule and if we begin within a two-week period from now you can have your building this year in my opinion. If it is delayed beyond that it starts to get more difficult.”
Ross continued and urged expediency.
“You know my reputation. I get things done. You saw what happened to the beach. You had it two years probably before it would have occurred. You had environmental approval in four weeks instead of a year. I know how to do things,” he said.
Mellan questioned whether this design would be enough to proceed on a build.
“So there would be engineering specs, roof trusses and everything would be included in Mr. Ross’ proposal is that right?” asked Mellan.
“Complete. I will hire on my own money an appropriate architectural firm to give you drawings to the highest standard,” replied Ross.
With the report tabled by Macpherson effectively ignored and while this new design presented did not appear on the agenda nor were any sketches provided to the press despite being presented in a public forum, Delegarde offered council the opportunity to give direction while cautioning that there were still many variables to consider.
“Staff has not had an opportunity to look at this plan. We’ve only heard snippets of it and two members of council have seen it and two haven’t. I think in all fairness we probably need a little bit of time to review this. We need Ben to look at this and review it and ask for his input into what he thinks of all of this,” she said. “It sounds like many of the options that we’ve described in our report this evening have been encompassed in this plan and of course the location has come up for re-consideration. So I’m thinking it’s probably in our best interest to defer it.”
While some of the councillors were ready to cast a vote on the Ross plan, prudence won the day and council voted to defer the decision, while being adamant they intend to be shovel ready on a proposed plan by October.
Macpherson’s report has essentially been rendered irrelevant.