“It will be more solid, faster and better built,” claimed Monique Jérôme-Forget, touting the supposed merits of public-private partnerships (P3s). But that’s not case with the new Sherbrooke Sports Centre.
Serious leaks meant the skating rink had to be closed for several days recently, while snow and ice were removed from the roof. Poorly-installed and insufficient roof drains were to blame. The corporation that built the rink, Axor, is also responsible for the construction of a new training centre for the Montreal Canadiens in Brossard. That facility collapsed on February 25.
Despite the controversy, the city is considering building another arena as a P3.
CUPE 2729, representing Sherbrooke’s outside municipal workers had this to say about the risks and pitfalls inherent in P3 projects:
“Twice in the last week, events have confirmed what CUPE has been saying for months: the City of Sherbrooke made a serious and expensive mistake in building the Rolland-Dussault Multisport Centre as a P3 with Axor.
“First, in Brossard, the training centre for the Canadiens hockey team, under construction by Axor, collapsed like a house of cards. Then a few days later, the roof of the Rolland-Dussault Centre started to leak, to the point that activities in the arena had to be stopped and an emergency call was sent out to municipal employees to unblock the roof drains.
“Axor seems to have forgotten that snow and ice slide on metal roofs, and that Sherbrooke is a city with a significant annual snowfall. As the roof of the soccer section is higher than that of the arena, the ice and snow from the higher roof slid down to block the drains on the arena roof, leading to the arena’s closure. This new incident has added to the numerous cracks in the arena’s concrete bleachers. Axor is supposed to give the Rolland-Dussault Arena back to the city of Sherbrooke in 40 years. What will be left to give back?
“What is really shocking about this incident is Axor’s attitude towards the safety of the centre’s users. The company adopted a sarcastic and somewhat condescending attitude towars the union representative who sounded the alarm, Mario Fontaine. It then maintained that the situation did not pose any danger.
“The Rolland-Dussault Centre was even reopened for several hours, long enough for a hockey match to be captured by the cameras. Was this risking the safety of the young players for the sake of image, for public relations? It is reasonable to ask, because as soon as the match was over, the doors were shut and remained so for several days. Since last Friday, several de-icing crews have gone up on the roof to remove the 30 centimetres of ice that had accumulated there. But according to Axor, there was no danger. How much credibility can we attribute to the representatives of this company regarding the future safety of the Rolland-Dussault Centre?
“Axor and the city assert that from the start of the project, they have applied the user-pay model. But our analysis reveal that nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the citizens of Sherbrooke will pay three times the cost of the centre in their taxes, and end up with a building they have good reason to doubt.
The city effectively guaranteed minimum use and agreed to rent the site at a cost that will increase continually over the years. We now know that potential users of the centre are staying away, partly because the fees are too high. Safety may now be another cause for hesitation. Use of the soccer fields is only 40 per cent. At that rate, Sherbrooke’s taxpayers will be footing the bill almost single-handedly. Did any citizens sign up for this?
“It is clear to us that the city should have retained, and must retain in future, full control of its building projects, in order to ensure that contractors eager to realize the maximum profit do not take advantage of an unbalanced agreement in which the obligations of one party far exceed the responsibilities of the other.
“A P3 is a contract that gives you no say over the quality of the material or the construction methods once you’ve signed it. The contractor is free to keep cutting back in order to inflate profits. The results are evident in Sherbrooke. Now we can wait for lawsuits to be added to the already inflated bill for this centre. Instead, it should have been built under the supervision of the city, following the highest safety standards. If that had happened, we wouldn’t feel like we were playing in a sports centre made of aluminum foil…”