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Opinion — $15 million cost doubles on Lac La Biche Main Street

Budget on $15-million Lac La Biche revitalization needs millions more

... by that much.

Inspector Gadget, sliding down the stony wall of the evil villain's castle fortress, heading for the churning waters of the alligator-filled moat, still holding the pole he had used to try and vault over the wall.

"Missed it, by that much."

It's funny when it happens to a cartoon character. 

It's not so funny in real life when a room full of elected officials, planners, designers and financial experts miss the mark by a comically long distance.

Lac La Biche's planned Main Street revitalization — the downtown fix-up, spruce up, utility and street upgrade that has been in the works for the last four years had a big-time budget of $15 million. But it's a big-time project.

The plan shows new sidewalks, trees, streetlights, art installations, cool roadside features like bulbout sidewalks and new paving all along Main Street — and that's just on the surface. Brand new utility conduits for water and sewer will be installed below ground, replacing six-decades-old cast iron pipes.

All that for $15 million, our table of experts have said. It's a lot of money, some residents have said, a lot of frills, others have said. But a new-look downtown is worth it, the majority have cheered.  We've all heard the details, and we've balanced them with the costs ... at least as best as we can, since we're not the experts.

How much does a kilometre of new curb cost? I don't know. I'm not an expert. How about the cost for a few dozen new benches and streetlights?  Nope, don't know that either — Most residents haven't been at all the meetings, discussed costs with the experts, calculated budget implications based on global economic changes, or poured over documents relating to all aspects of this deal for the last four years. That's been a job for the experts.

Oops.

So it was with Inspector Gadget-like surprise when the price quotes from four pre-qualified construction companies were opened on Tuesday afternoon. Without going into all the decimals and commas, the lowest bid for the budgeted $15 million project was $24.6 million. The highest bid was $34 million.

From almost $10 million more, to more than double — quite a bit off off the mark.

"Missed it ... by that much."

Not missed, however, as the bids were opened in front of them, was the look of shock on the faces of the council members around the table — many of the the same ones who have been wading through even the most minute details of this project for the last four years.

Of course, the bids will have to be examined, so perhaps there are areas where fat can be trimmed before an official recommendation comes back to the council members. In that time, councillors will likely have to do some explaining. Because like our bumbling cartoon crime-fighter was about to find out at the start of this column... when you miss it by that much, the alligators will be waiting.



Rob McKinley

About the Author: Rob McKinley

Rob has been in the media, marketing and promotion business for 30 years, working in the public sector, as well as media outlets in major metropolitan markets, smaller rural communities and Indigenous-focused settings.
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