MARYSTOWN, NL – The newly renovated town hall in Marystown no longer has the capabilities to serve as a command centre during emergencies, and council is questioning how that happened.
During council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19, it was revealed councillors only recently became aware the infrastructure to allow a generator to be hooked up to the building, as well as that for satellite phones and other equipment, was removed during work on the project.
The previous town council instigated the renovation project, none of whom – except Mayor Sam Synard – are part of the current group of councillors.
The renovation project came in over budget, at a total cost of roughly $2.3-million, according to Synard. The building was re-opened in early April.
Coun. Mike Brennan said he was shocked to learn the town had been left in such a precarious situation for so long without an emergency command centre and that no one seems to know anything about the decision.
“I see no reason why certain safeguards were not in place to ensure that we had backup electric and backup cell service and satellite phones,” he said.
Synard, who noted the site had previously performed well as a command centre during Hurricane Igor in 2010, said he also only recently learned of the equipment’s removal as well, and did not have an answer.
Synard, who had a contentious relationship with the past council, said he wasn’t trying to pass blame and claimed he was involved in “almost zero discussion” about the town hall project.
“I didn’t know any more than anybody in the public what was going on. That’s why I’m here I guess, and other people are not around the table, or one of the reasons, to be frank about it,” he said.
The town hall renovation project has been an oft-discussed topic in recent months, Synard noted.
Council deferred a request from Lat49 Architecture, the company responsible for overseeing the project, for payment of the holdback in October, with finance committee chair Coun. Andy Edwards saying at the time he was not comfortable with approving the remaining money until some outstanding deficiencies with the building were addressed.
Though those issues remain, council approved the payment – in the amount of $112,685.56 – during the meeting.
Edwards said the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment had requested the bill be paid.
“It doesn’t give me a comfortable feeling to think that after we pay them we’re going to get anything done,” Edwards said.
To make the payment, approval was given to borrow the funds from the town’s general account.
Synard explained there is no money left in the account for the town hall renovations, a project that was cost-shared with the provincial government, with the province paying 80 per cent. Any additional costs going forward will have to be borne by the town, he said.
That would include funds to put a short-term plan in place in case of emergencies, which will be implemented in the next couple of weeks, Synard said.
“It won’t be a Cadillac system, not this late in the game, but it’ll be some system,” he said.
Former employee responds
Mike Walsh, a former employee with the Town of Marystown, disputed that the emergency infrastructure was removed unknowingly in a comment on The Southern Gazette’s Facebook page shortly after this story was published online.
Walsh, who recently resigned as the town’s deputy clerk and was also acting chief administrative officer for a time, said everyone on the previous council was made aware the emergency operations centre (EOC) was being removed from the town hall.
“With the major renovation that was being done, maintaining the EOC in the town hall would have cost anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000 to bring the EOC up to code. At that time it was decided to move the EOC to the fire hall,” he wrote.
Walsh indicated the EOC was moved to the fire hall when the renovation project started and all the necessary materials were in place.
“The satellite phone was never in place at the town hall. The actual hookup for the satellite phone was completed sometime in the second half of 2015 but the actual phone was never at the town hall when the connection was completed. The satellite phone was and currently is operational at the fire hall,” Walsh wrote.
“There were 12 phone lines in the ceiling of the council chambers that could be activated if a state of emergency was ever called. Through discussion with town staff it was determined that between council and staff there were sufficient numbers of cell phones to provide adequate communication without incurring extra cost.”
According to Walsh, the backup generator connection at the town hall was taken out because the project’s mechanical engineers determined it was inadequate to operate the facility as an EOC.
“It was not capable of providing enough heat and light for a building that size.”
Walsh suggested a short-term plan isn’t needed.
“The town has an emergency plan in place and an emergency operations centre. As to why the mayor says he is not aware of the EOC change, that I cannot answer,” Walsh wrote.
* Editor's note: This story was updated with comments from Mike Walsh, former deputy clerk and acting chief administrative officer with the Town of Marystown.