The City of Richmond is refusing to disclose almost 4,000 pages of documents that could help explain the multi-year delay in opening the Minoru Centre for Active Living (MCAL) as well as the pool’s significant structural problems.
The Richmond News has asked the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) to look into whether the city has the right to refuse to disclose those documents.
The $84 million facility was almost two years behind schedule when it opened in March 2019, and the aquatic portion was delayed a further 18 months because there was a crack in one of the pools.
The News is arguing the Richmond public has a right to know the reasons for the delays as it’s a public facility built with public dollars.
The case, which began in February, 2019, when the News filed a freedom-of-information request which was denied, is now at the OIPC inquiry stage.
The city’s submission, compiled by the Vancouver law firm Young Anderson Barristers & Solicitors, claims all 3,865 pages fall under solicitor-client privilege, background information and privacy.
The city argues because it’s being sued by the contractor, Stuart Olson, for $7 million, making the documents public would compromise their case in court, while other documents are background information to the case.
The News has responded that many facts in this case have nothing to do with solicitor-client privilege and the blanket ban on all documents is over-reaching and unwarranted.
The News’ original FOI was filed in February 2019. Five months later, in July 2019, the city responded by refusing the documents — apart from re-sending a few press releases as well as one previously undisclosed memo. At the time, the city stated all other documents fell under “solicitor client privilege and litigation” even though Stuart Olson didn’t launched a lawsuit against the city for another seven months.
During construction, the city’s response to questions about delays basically centred around poor weather and labour shortages.
But, in its counter-claim to Stuart Olson’s lawsuit, many other alleged reasons for delays came up: design changes, changes in the scope of the work, the tendering process being late, supplemental instructions, revised drawings, cost over-runs, problems procuring steel, turnover in construction staff and communication breakdowns.
In fact, one tender package was awarded as late as August 2018, one month after the City of Richmond held a job fair to hire staff for the facility, and eight months before the facility partially opened.
Furthermore, the aquatic centre portion of the facility was scheduled to open in March 2019. Shortly before that scheduled opening, the city sent a press release saying the opening would be further delayed because the concrete base in Lap Pool 1 was damaged.
Documents filed in court as part of the lawsuit, however, allege, in addition to the crack in Lap Pool 1, there were significant leakage problems throughout the facility and a failure of the waterproofing membrane of Lap Pool 2.
The latter two points were never disclosed to the public.
While the city’s response to the lawsuit are allegations and make up part of its legal defence to a $7 million lawsuit, they give an indication of the problems related to this construction project.
Nevertheless, the city chose to withhold virtually all details from the public.
The News’ argument before the OIPC is the city should have been more open in its explanations for the construction delays.