Who's telling the truth over what five washrooms cost to put in five firehalls? The City of Vancouver? The fire department?
Picked a bad week to be away.
It’s always a bad week to be away when you can’t defend yourself against the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services for suggesting a story I wrote two weeks ago had incorrect figures.
Maybe you read it.
It had to do with the fire department spending close to $1 million on what deputy chief Mark Engler described as “gender neutral” washrooms in five firehalls. Engler explained the cost to me in a taped interview.
Engler: “We set a budget of about $150,000 to $200,000.”
Me: “For each one, or overall?”
Engler: “For each one.”
Me: “Wow, that must be a pretty nice washroom.”
Engler went on to say the washrooms were expensive because the cost included money paid to a project manager and architect. Some of them required removal of hazardous material, he added.
Me: “So that I’m clear, the $150,000 to $200,000 budget is for five washrooms?”
Engler: “Some of them were as low as $150,000.”
Me: “And some were more than $150,000?”
Engler: “The latest ones have been a little bit more. The contracting fees actually went up on the last one, so they were a little higher.”
Some quick math here: Five washrooms multiplied by $150,000 each equals $750,000. And, as Engler noted, some were more expensive than $150,000. So when I wrote that five washrooms cost close to $1 million, I thought that was fair.
My story attracted the attention of CTV, which contacted the City’s communications department about the story. But rather than refer the television reporter to the fire department — as they did with me — they said they’d get back to him with the costs of the washrooms.
CTV was ready to broadcast a story, when late in the day the City sent the news agency an email saying the cost of the washrooms ranged from $56,000 to $94,000. CTV didn’t think it was a story and killed it.
A few days later, the City sent the same email to Courier assistant editor Fiona Hughes, who followed up with the city’s general manager for Real Estate and Facilities Management. His name is Bill Aujla.
“Mark didn’t do the work and I’m not sure Mark gave those numbers, which is why it’s a concern,” Aujla told Hughes, when she asked about the disparity in the cost. “Certainly, when I spoke to Mark he acknowledged to me that he wasn’t sure where those figures came from.”
How about straight from Engler’s mouth.
Note: Engler has since referred all calls on the topic to the City’s communications department. So how much did the washrooms cost? Who knows.