Last week while being questioned at budget committee, parks and recreation general manager Janie Romoff told councillors that two years was a “reasonable period” to turn around a parks improvement project.
“I’m not sure what we can do to get that down,” she said.
Daniel McLaughlin, her manager of construction management and capital projects, added that they’ve set two years as their “critical path” rather than trying to improve parks in one year because there are often procurement delays.
Romoff said adding more staff (they are planning to hire four) won’t make a difference.
Clearly Romoff and her underlings felt no imperative to up their game after being embarrassed in the summer of 2017 by the story of Stepgate, which went viral and even landed on CNN, USA Today, Fox News and the BBC.
That story involved 73-year-old (at the time) Adi Astl who built a series of eight steps into the south end of Etobicoke’s Tom Riley Park. Astl, a former mechanic, did the work in 12 hours for $550 after parks officials said it would cost anywhere from $65,000 to $150,000.
Clearly, once the spotlight is off city officials and our politicians, this kind of heavy lifting is relegated to the back burner. It was evident from the responses from Romoff and McLaughlin last week that they really feel no pressure to deliver parks improvements in a more cost-effective and timely manner — and are not the least bit embarrassed with their two-year turn-around time.
Reached last week, the man at the centre of Stepgate, Adi Astl, said bureaucrats don’t have anybody to tell them they have a timeline — so they give themselves two years for something that could be done in three months.
“The only reason the steps got done so fast was because of the media coverage,” he said. “Otherwise we’d still be waiting.”
In a lengthy response to some of those questions, I was informed by parks officials that improvements — which generally take two years from start to completion — include construction and replacement of playgrounds and splash pads, upgrades to park buildings, sports fields and trails as well as development and refurbishment.
After the project is approved in the city’s capital budget, the design and consultation phase takes up to eight months, I was told. Consultation includes “multiple meetings” with local communities — which often represents “the most significant portion of the project timeframe.”
I nearly fell off my chair I laughed so much at the latter response. Charging up to $150,000 for eight stairs (aka Stepgate) represents the “best use” of public dollars? C’mon!
Which brings me to south Scarborough’s Natal Park — affectionately named ‘Tetanus Park’ by some of the parks users two years ago because it consisted of an unsafe corroded rust bucket that passed off as a jungle gym for small children.
Similar commercial playsets online run in the $10,000 to $20,000 range including installation. But I guess there’s a reason the project costs $150,000 considering the two years needed to design, consult and shuffle paper.
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Last week I spoke with Cathy Baillie, the mom I’d met at the park two years ago. She said the equipment was still a rust bucket last summer. It still appeared in rough shape when a Toronto Sun photographer went to the park last week.
It is extremely difficult to tell in the list of 124 parks improvement projects for 2019 if Natal Park is on the list. All it indicates is that there are $264,000 worth of park improvements set for the former Ward 36 (where Tetanus park is located).