Connaught group seeks provincial audit review

A request to examine school capital funding requests was submitted to the acting provincial auditor today by a group of citizens who want a second estimate on renovating Connaught School.

“We have concerns about the practice of submitting single-source estimates, and what appears to be limited oversight in assessing their reliability,” said Rene Dumont, chair of Save Our Connaught Heritage. “Our request is specific to the case of Connaught School in Regina, however the findings could be broadly applicable to all school divisions and districts.”

The group argues that basic mathematical errors understated the value of a new school, while estimates for a renovation were inflated by guesswork and double-counting of contingency costs.

“We have nothing against the people who prepare estimates. We understand they are working under constraints laid out by the board and ministry. This includes lack of funding to carry out recommended studies, leading to higher contingency costs,” said Dumont. “Having said that, we think taxpayers could be better served by more rigourous and wide-ranging efforts to examine the options.”

As an example, Dumont said the ministry could compare the cost of a new school with the cost of a program of regular maintenance and lower-cost, phased-in renovations. “This information could be gathered by consultants or government employees who have no interest in bidding on projects,” he added.

The submission notes that Save Our Connaught Heritage offered to pay for a structural study of Connaught, but permission for building conservation experts to enter the school was denied by the Regina Board of Education.

Additionally, the group wants the auditor to ensure Connaught School’s value is properly assessed through an embodied energy audit, a heritage valuation, and calculation of the cost of replacing mature trees, public artworks, landscaping and a grass soccer pitch that would be destroyed by a new build.

“Citizens deserve to know the full value of what they are being asked to throw away. We need to know the environmental cost of demolition and replacement, in dollar terms,” said Dumont. “We also need choices that seek the least disruption for students and their learning environment. This is the only way to determine which option is actually the most economical for taxpayers and the best for students.”

The submission also asks the auditor to consider complaints about workplace and online harassment of school community members seeking a renovation option, including disparaging personal allegations in social media made by board representatives. “Harassment and cyber-bullying shouldn’t be the price citizens have to pay for simply asking for more than one cost estimate,” said Dumont.

“Ultimately, we hope a thorough investigation of the Connaught capital funding submission will result in improved ministerial guidelines for preparing estimates,” said Dumont. “As Saskatchewan’s school buildings age, this is a great opportunity to begin introducing requirements like embodied energy audits and heritage valuations, which have never before been part of the picture.”

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