Fallout continues over cost of interim gym
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says a temporary gym for Elbow Park students displaced by the floods is a waste of money and the cash could be better spent.
The $1.1 M gym will be built alongside the portable classrooms that will make up the temporary Elbow Park School.
The gym is being built by Sprung Instant Structures next to Earl Grey School.
The company's Vice-President, Tim Sprung, is also president of the Elbow Park Community Association, which has dealt with the premier to get Elbow Park School rebuilt.
Sprung is world renowned for its temporary structures and was the right fit for the job but the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation says the contract could be perceived as a conflict of interest.
“The person or organization trying to convince the government that it was necessary has an obvious conflict of interest. If you can benefit personally from it, you have no business lobbying on behalf of a community, to the premier, to the government saying you need it,” said Derek Fildebrandt, Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The criticism goes even deeper because the gymnasium is being built in the premier's own riding.
“The original portables were way, way, several times over budget, and now the gymnasium on top of this, it’s really starting to look quite fishy considering where it is. Then you look to places like High River, not in the premier’s riding, that are not getting the same kind of treatment,” said Fildebrandt. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that these kids could be blended with the existing schools that have the excess capacity anyway. I won’t say that it is political for sure but I have a hard time believing that anywhere else in the province is going to get a $1 million temporary gymnasium if it wasn’t located where it is.”
The community association's twitter account says the association and the premier met just six days ago to discuss the Elbow Park School rebuilding.
The association called it a productive meeting and the premier insists that there is no conflict.
“He’s not the President of the community association. It is a successful Alberta company. We were very honest at the very beginning that in order to deal with people effectively, that we were going to sole source contracts,” said Premier Alison Redford.
Fildebrandt says sole source contracting is always dangerous.
“People are willing to grant the government a good deal of slack when it comes to flood related spending. It’s an unprecedented disaster and everyone knew it’s going to take a lot of money and that there can be a few short cuts made here and there but sole source contracting is always dangerous and this is what you get. You get contracts given out to potential friends of the government. Now we’re seeing that the cost that the government was promised by the sole source contract is now many times over what they were promised, $5 million for the portables alone, and now another million on top of that for a gymnasium when not a single penny of this was necessary to be spent in this area,” said Fildebrandt.
He says there are schools pretty close by that are able to accommodate the students for the time being and the money could have been used on other facilities that were also damaged that don’t have that option.
“They don’t have excess capacity in High River for students and they urgently need more portables right away, Here, just the mere inconvenience of having to bus your kid for twelve minutes to school. I took a bus an hour each way to go to school when I was a kid and that’s just something you deal with and it might be a little bit inconvenient to have to take a twelve minute bus ride but that’s shorter than most of our commutes, going to work anyway,” said Fildebrandt.
CTV News tried to reach Tim Sprung for comment by phone and email and did not receive a response.
(With files from Elissa Carpenter)