MORRISBURG – A last ditch effort by Iroquois resident and business owner, John Ross, to save his proposed plan for the airport and campground building was shut down as council soundly defeated a motion Tues., April 2 to have the issue brought back to the table.
“I should have known that it would be rejected,” said a disappointed Ross moments after the decision. “I am stunned. I’m in disbelief. It’s like a bad dream.”
The new plan, which council was aware of, didn’t even see the light of day.
In order for the proposal to hit the table, two motions had to be passed, with the first needing two-thirds majority.
With Councillor Lloyd Wells declaring a conflict of interest, the first motion was easily defeated, bringing the Ross plan to an abrupt halt, much to the surprise of many in the public gallery.
In May of last year, director of recreation and facilities, Ben Macpherson, requested approval of a contract with Engineering For Industry (EFI) to oversee the design and construction of the new building for more than $57,000.
A month later, a much larger and comprehensive design from Ross was presented alongside a municipal report of desired amenities from community stakeholders that caused considerable confusion among the day’s council.
With the features requested, the cost of the project inflated to $550,000. Council moved to formally work with Ross to design and construct the building, although Councillor Archie Mellan expressed his reservations at the time.
“If John can design something, I haven’t got a problem with doing that, but he’s going to have to go to an engineer and say, ‘this is what we got. If you can fit this within a $350,000 budget, I can work with that.’ I’m just afraid it’s going to be coming back in our laps in August. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong,” he said.
In the end, Mellan was right.
The Ross design was sent out to tender and when the bids submitted were grossly over budget, Bourgon Construction had the closest bid at $648,382, council swiftly defeated the plan and publicly stated they were going back to square one.
Ross maintained that had he been able to choose the contractor himself rather than go through the municipal tender process, the project would have gotten done.
“In the past I constructed the beach, the airport, the hangars, walking paths, everything by choosing the contractor myself because I funded the majority of the projects in that park,” he said. “The new council has a policy that I do respect now, that they will go out to bids for any project of significance. In my proposal in a way, without knowing it, I had let the council down.”
Ross added that he had managed to fundraise some money as well as reduce the cost of the building after personally contacting Bourgon Construction.
“I was able to effectively reduce the cost of the building by $40,000 at least. Then I informed a number of people that the project might be in difficulty and within 24 hours I had commitments for donations of $52,000,” he said.
Mayor Steven Byvelds cited the overall cost as simply too much to bear for a municipal building.
“As much as we appreciated John Ross’ work and commitment, including funding to the project, the price point was just too much for council to handle. A decision was made to move on with the original build price and we will do our best to provide a campground building that will meet the needs of those who use it,” he said.
Ross was biting in his reaction to council’s decision to move on from his plan.
“What they said tonight really was that the community does not deserve this building. You can quote me on that. It does not deserve the building. They deserve to be worse off than they were with the old building. What council should say that? It should be going the other way,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Kirsten Gardner agreed with Byvelds that the price for a seasonal building was too steep and believes that the people of South Dundas support council’s decision.
“For me, defeating the motion was not about Mr. Ross, but rather an action to support council’s decision to move this process forward after the tender came back way too high for a seasonal campground building. In the two weeks between meetings I did not receive one single email or phone call related to our decision to return to the original plan,” she said.
Although “the building turned out to be more expensive than any of us expected,” according to Ross, he claimed it was due to modern building codes and new food handling regulations that had to be met to have the amenities requested by stakeholders.
Those elements were a crucial part of the design and overall vision for the building.
“I didn’t want to see the social heart of the community absolutely abandoned at a time when the lawn bowling club had also been expelled from the Forward House and had nowhere to go,” said Ross. “It will be the end of the Fly-In Breakfast, the lawn bowling tournaments, no camper pot lucks, cards and dart playing. That’s all gone. The social heart of it is gone. Why should anyone go to the campsite?”
The municipality has stated that they will construct a replacement building for the original $350,000 budget, but Ross doesn’t believe that’s possible with what has been spent and the modern day requirements for campgrounds.
“There is not enough for even a building of the present type, which isn’t large enough. So I have no idea what they’re going to build,” he said. “We spent approximately $64,000 in engineering. At the last meeting they cancelled my contract therefore they cancelled my obligation to pay my share of the engineering. I was willingly paying the engineering. I haven’t paid it.”
Council’s decision to begin the process anew left Ross wondering if a year of planning, designing and consultation will be cast aside, noting that the portion of the design that contains the washroom, shower, laundry and other amenities, could be repurposed at a cost of $4,000.
“They’re going to spend close to $15,000 by starting all over. This meets the current requirements of 70 sites and allows it to go up to 100. My fear is they won’t do that. That they will start from zero,” said Ross.
With the municipality rendering their final decision, Ross was asked what he will do now going forward.
“I’ll do nothing. I will go to Florida and enjoy myself,” he said.