The Bloedel controversy and the NPA Park Board’s Olympic overruns

Vancouver City Council must today approve a $4.87 million debenture issue to cover unfunded costs for conversion of the Hillcrest Olympic facilities to community use after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games — enough to replace the roof of the Bloedel Conservatory at least twice over. (The city has already contributed $1 million to the Hillcrest conversion fund in this year’s capital plan.)

It’s just the latest in a series of bills run up by the NPA council and park board between 2005 and 2008, when costs to build the Hillcrest curling facility and the new Percy Norman Pool went through the roof.

Looking for Olympic overruns? Look no further than this sad story, which will see the Park Board repaying city loans for many years.

This week’s spending approval will fill the gap left in the conversion fund, which VANOC paid to the city in 2006. The $10 million was to be invested and grow to $12.35 million, enough for post-Olympic Games conversion.

But the cost of conversion rose as well, first to $14 million in 2008, now down to a mere $13.2 million as construction costs moderate. The Park Board has been ordered to find cuts to bring costs back to the original $12.35 million.

But the VANOC nest egg is not what it used to be, chewed up by unanticipated costs at Hillcrest that consumed millions of dollars. Only $6.48 million is left.

So council must borrow to fill the hole, a task that will require a further $4.87 million above the $1 million paid from this year’s capital fund. Cost of a new Bloedel roof: about $2 million.

This day was foretold as early as 2006, when VANOC raised its contribution to Vancouver facilities and their conversion by $10 million to $38 million. The VANOC bean counters were not being profligate. They wisely capped VANOC’s exposure.

It was all spelled out September 2006, wheb Sam Sullivan’s NPA council received this gloomy report outlining how far the budget had drifted from its moorings. All four facilities were already well over budget and work had just begun.

The NPA forged ahead, paying some of the bills, juggling money from account to account, and ordering the Park Board to repay part of the overruns with future years’ revenue.

It’s all very unpleasant — and a mess the Vision park commissioners must now confront.