EXCLUSIVE: Councillors question Sprung Shield info
COLLINGWOOD — Council was never told a vandal-proof layer for the architectural fabric membrane structures over Centennial Pool and the new rink at Central Park was an option, and not included — though two councillors say it was used as a selling point when the decision was made last August to buy the buildings.
The acting CAO at the time, Ed Houghton, made the decision to dispense with the so-called Sprung Shield a month before council deliberated on the purchase of the two structures, during a meeting with representatives of building supplier Sprung Structures, building contractor BLT, and Deputy-mayor Rick Lloyd on July 27, 2012.
Yet, others on council — and the municipal staff member overseeing the two projects — didn’t realize the component wasn’t included until after the structure over Centennial Pool was broken into this past July, emails obtained by the Enterprise-Bulletin under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act reveal.
That has Councillor Keith Hull asking questions about why decisions were being made a month before the presentation was made to council, and why information about the Sprung Shield was included in the presentations to council — and then to the public in a municipal newsletter in the fall.
“When I went back and pulled my file (on the rec facilities) and started looking at the literature that we had been provided the weekend leading up to the (Aug. 27 meeting), as well as subsequent literature that we had sent out to the public, it became pretty clear that whether it was intentional, or unintentional, the marketing material all had this Sprung Shield identified — and when I looked at it I interpreted it as this was included, not presented as an option,” said Hull, the only councillor to vote against the purchase of both buildings. “If I’m buying a Mercedes, leather seats are the standard, not optional… that’s your expectation. The way this was presented to council on (Aug. 27), the reason for not having to go through an RFP process, the reason to sole-source because the research had been done — we were being presented with a Mercedes product at a reasonable cost, and here was the marketing material to go along with it.
“Again, whether it was intentional or unintentional, that decision had been made prior and the information reflecting the Sprung Shield wasn’t pulled out. I think it’s an issue.”
The ‘Sprung Shield’ is a three-sixteenth-inch hard shell which includes an aluminum skin touted as preventing punctures and tears, and installed on the first eight-and-a-half feet of the Sprung Performance Arena product.
The layer is a hard wall vandal-proof system to create a “virtually non-penetrable defence wall,” according to the company’s marketing documents given to councillors last August.
The fact the Sprung Shield wasn’t included only came to light, according to emails, after building contractor BLT was asked by town officials how the fabric membrane could have been torn open.
Someone cut through one of the fabric membrane panels on July 11, and sent a scissor lift into the pool. OPP officers are still investigating the incident.
In one email, dated July 22, 2013, the town’s project manager Ron Martin questions BLT officials about the lack of the protective layer “as originally presented to council.” Councillor Ian Chadwick, in an exchange with the deputy-mayor and municipal staff on July 14, also notes, “council was told this was a feature that would protect the facilities. Now it turns out it was not installed.”
In an interview with the E-B, Chadwick said after consulting with staff, he realized his assessment was incorrect.
“I remember we talked about (the Sprung Shield), but I don’t remember if it was presented as an option,” said Chadwick.
Martin confirmed to the E-B that after the break-in, he found a line in a document from Sprung indicating the shield was optional.
Houghton, in response to questions from interim town manager John Brown in late July, stated the decision was based on cost, and that the membrane’s Tedlar coating would provide enough protection. Tedlar is a polyvinyl film designed to protect surfaces exposed to harsh weather, UV rays, chemicals, solvents and staining agents.
In an interview with the Enterprise-Bulletin, Houghton says the documentation provided to councillors was information pulled from Sprung’s website, but that he did not make specific reference to the Sprung Shield during his presentation; the E-B has viewed a DVD of that council meeting, and confirmed that to be the case — though Houghton’s Powerpoint presentation to council does include a chart from Sprung’s website that is part of an ‘oranges to oranges’ comparison to conventional construction, and references the Sprung Shield.
“Staff did not speak to (the Sprung Shield) in the presentation,” he said. “In no way, shape or form, were we trying to misrepresent anything.
“It was never installed, so it was never included in the pricing.”
Houghton was unable to say what the protective layer would have cost, and the E-B has not been able to confirm a price with Sprung. Rick Lloyd estimated it would be in the range of $80,000 for one building.
The total cost of both buildings was approximately $13.4 million.
Houghton says the decision was made on the basis Collingwood is not a high-crime area; he was told by Sprung the layer is often installed on buildings in urban areas where there may be ‘extreme’ instances of crime or vandalism.
The Aug. 27, 2012 public presentation to council by Sprung representative Tom Lloyd — no relation to the two members of town council — centred on the company’s ‘performance arena’ and ‘performance pool’ structures, which are advertised as including the Sprung Shield, along with the ‘oranges to oranges’ comparison to conventional construction.
A cross-section diagram of the Sprung Shield was also included on a newsletter produced by the municipality and sent out to residents in the fall to tout the benefits of the new rec facilities.
Chadwick, who helped put together the newsletter, said he pulled the diagram off Sprung’s website.
“Do I recall if somebody said, ‘this is an option, this is a selling point’? A year later, I don’t, and it’s impossible to go back that far and remember all the details,” said Chadwick. “We depended upon staff to guide us. Staff told us this was a unique product, and I have no reason to doubt that.
“If we made the same decision again, would we follow a different process? Possibly, but, it was done to solve an issue, to try to meet a community need,” he said. “We had a presentation, and behind that presentation was all the time and effort staff put into it… I never, ever believed that staff misled us.
“We got great buildings for a good price. If we lived in a large urban centre, where crime was a significant factor… I might be concerned.”
Rick Lloyd says he was aware the Sprung Shield was only an option, but only because he took an active interest in the two rec facility projects, and was part of the July 27, 2012 meeting. However, he insists, he played no role in the decision to dispense with the Sprung Shield, nor did he provide any direction to staff.
“I was involved in many different meetings with the development of the rec facilities… I’m involved in a lot of meetings with different aspects of the town. I was asked to attend, I did, from the perception of my interest in it,” said Lloyd, who came across Sprung’s marketing material during a Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention in Saskatchewan in May, 2012. “Probably because of my interest from the beginning is why (staff) involved me throughout (the process).”
He also denied that as a councillor, he shouldn’t have been involved in what appeared to be a procurement process.
“When we were looking at all the options available, this would be no different than the Central Park proposal — it would be like saying, ‘council shouldn’t be part of the proposal, because if you are part of the procurement process’,” he said. “There were no negotiations — I wasn’t involved in any negotiations… the discussions (on July 27) were on many different aspects of the Sprung buildings, what they offer, and the opportunities. Staff were making all the decisions — I wasn’t. And, council made the final decision on moving it forward.
“Being involved to the degree I was (didn’t involve) making any final decisions… I feel quite comfortable in the involvement I had in it,” he said. “In hindsight, perhaps it should have been listed as an option, and presented to council — at that point, council could have said, ‘yes, we want to go ahead with that’.”
Chadwick also defended Lloyd’s right to be part of that meeting, noting it’s important for town councillors to be part of such discussions to assist staff in understanding what the concerns of the politicians may be.
“I’m much more comfortable when a member of council sits in on these kinds of decisions, so that (there is) somebody who knows what councillors’ objections might be, what councillors’ thinking might be… so people understand, be able to answer, and be prepared,” said Chadwick. “The idea that council has to stay out of these discussions doesn’t make any sense… it’s not efficient, because that means (matters) have to come back to council for discussion and debate, and then the people involved in those discussions have to go back to (suppliers) to answer all these questions that they could have been prepared for.
Lloyd criticized other councillors for not taking the time to find out what was happening for themselves.
“I don’t know if it is a lack of interest from some of the councillors, not trying to figure out what was going on,” said the deputy-mayor, noting some councillors only saw the pool building on the day of the grand opening last week, even though it’s been open for nearly a month.
“I’ve had interest, and opportunity to see (these buildings) through construction. Somebody could criticize me for that, but it’s mainly because I’m interested to see it,” he said. “I think it’s important, as the executive committee for the Town of Collingwood, that we’re there. To completely not be there, I can’t believe that some councillors wouldn’t involve themselves. This is the single biggest expenditure this council has had, and not to take an interest?
“I have real interest in the operation of the community, and if someone asks me a question, I feel more in tuned to what’s going on so I can answer appropriately.”
Hull said if decisions about specific components were to be made, it should have been done after council had made a decision on the direction it would take, not prior.
“The issue for me at this point is it’s become clear that one month prior to a staff report and a recommendation being presented to council, decisions are already being made (involving) one member of council, a senior level individual on the management side, directly with the supplier, and the supplier has already (been) contracted out — you’ve got all four parties, council, staff, supplier and contractor, already making decisions a month prior to it actually coming to council,” he said. “If it came to council, and we had chosen not to go with Sprung and gone in a different direction, it would be neither here nor there… I don’t think this is the case, because it was being directed, and this clearly shows the decision had already been made and was being directed toward council that we would make this decision on (Aug. 27).”
Hull also says the July 27 decision contradicts previous statements by Houghton that municipal staff “buried themselves for 45 days to do the due diligence.”
At least one other councillor is reacting with disappointment at the news.
“I was shocked to find out the taxpayers of Collingwood didn’t get the buildings they paid for, based on the information” in the release of documents, said Councillor Joe Gardhouse, who didn’t know what had taken place until he reviewed the documents prior to their release to the E-B. He has since sent a letter to interim town manager John Brown with several questions with regard to the buildings and process.
“I was under the complete understanding we were getting the buildings as described” to council at the Aug. 27, 2012 meeting,” said Gardhouse, who voted against the purchase of the building over the pool. “I would not have voted for the arena without the Sprung Shield as illustrated.”
Councillor Dale West, though, says he would like to understand the context of the July 27 meeting, and whether it was part of staff’s fact-finding as directed by council 11 days earlier.
“I would be more concerned if that meeting was held before July 16,” he said, adding he was unable to say whether he expected the component to be part of the buildings or not. “I can’t say I made the decision based on a component… but I was surprised it wasn’t there,” he said.
“On (Aug. 27), I was honestly expecting that Sprung would be an option… I was expecting that there would be alternatives, and that council would be say, ‘yes, we want to proceed with this… and now we want to determine the format’, and go with an RFP and get the best available product,” said Hull. “In the end, Sprung would have been the best alternative… but we never went down that path.
“Why we never went down that path, to this day, really bothers me, and quite frankly, and it bothers any professional I talk to who is in the planning, engineering, architectural business, because there was no rationale… to sole source one product.”