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With less than a year to go, Pan Am venues face delays

Curt Harnett, Canadian Olympic cyclist, and the Chef de Mission for the Canadian 2015 Pan-Am team, speaks about the new velodrome for the 2015 Pan-Am Games that is nearing completion in Milton, Ont., on Sept. 11, 2014.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Thousands of football fans expected to fill up Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field for the Ticats home opener in July. The stadium wasn't ready. The crème de la crème of elite track cyclists from across the country were to compete on the freshly laid track at the Milton velodrome in October. They'll have to wait until next year.

This week, TO2015 opened up sales of tickets for next year's games and sold 75,000 within the first 48 hours. The organizing committee has said repeatedly that facilities will be ready several months before opening ceremonies, but many of those facilities have much earlier deadlines to meet for test events, some of which have been or will be missed. Because the Tim Hortons Field, also known as the Pan Am Soccer Stadium, wasn't ready by its targeted completion date at the end of June, the Tiger-Cats were forced to play their first three home games at McMaster University. Cycling Canada postponed the Canadian Track Championships and the Milton International Challenge until 2015, when it anticipates the velodrome – originally slated to be finished this month – will be ready.

Six facilities in Toronto, Milton, Markham and Hamilton are months behind schedule and three of those delayed facilities – the Hamilton stadium, the Milton velodrome, and the York University stadium – are being built by Ontario Sports Solutions (ONSS), a consortium of firms responsible for designing, building and financing the venues.

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With the design-build-finance model, contractors are paid half their fee by Infrastructure Ontario when the facility is 50 per cent finished, and the other half when it's complete. ONSS has still not been paid more than $140-million of the contract for those facilities. While delays are common on projects of this scale, especially for major sporting events, some involved with these facilities blame poor scheduling and engineering miscalculations made by ONSS for missed deadlines. While the TO2015 team says they're confident the facilities will be ready in time for the games, stakeholders are already dealing with consequences of the delays.

The Town of Milton is losing revenue it expected to come in from having the gym and track at the velodrome open to residents for recreational use prior to the games, says Rick Malboeuf, a member of Milton's town council who has long opposed the project. Staff told council this week they anticipate the loss in revenue will be more than offset by savings on operating costs, but Mr. Malboeuf has concerns about the long-term financial toll the venue will take on the town.

"My concern is Milton taxpayers. When all these [maintenance] costs are coming in and the novelty wears off and people realize they have to come up to Milton for tournaments, we don't have the facilities to accommodate them," he said. He fears the Milton velodrome, like the one built in Montreal for the 1976 Olympics, will be decommissioned after the games are over.

In a release, Cycling Canada's chief executive officer explained he and other stakeholders had made the "difficult decision" to postpone the two major test events in October because the construction of the velodrome was "taking slightly longer than originally planned."

In Hamilton, an eleventh-hour approval by city inspectors allowed for the stadium to open for the Labour Day Classic in early September but because construction is not yet complete, only 18,135 fans (rather than the 24,000 the facility has capacity for) were allowed in for the game.

Allen Vansen, TO2015's executive vice-president of operations, sport and venue management, attempted to minimize the delays of the Pan Am venues, saying the new facilities must be constructed properly since they are being built for lifespans of about half a century. Documents prepared by TO2015 show that most deadlines for facilities have been nudged forward a few times since they were originally set in 2012. Now, instead of specifying a month, many are vaguely set as "Fall 2014."

"We give a month and in projects of these magnitudes, you always like to come in on those months but there are elements that happen," Mr. Vansen said. He noted that more than half the test events to take place before the games have already been completed.

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The TO2015 team has said the venues are under budget, but many stakeholders speculate that costs for labour alone have likely soared for the delayed facilities. The nature of the contracts Infrastructure Ontario signed for the construction of these facilities means contractors are responsible for absorbing any cost overruns – they won't be downloaded on the province or municipalities.

One city councillor in Hamilton believes the delays on the stadium in his city have been drawn out because ONSS hasn't yet been paid half their bill.

"A contractor would sit back and do the arithmetic: what's it going to cost me to finance it, what's it going to cost me to work double-shifts or to work weekends? I've done that arithmetic and clearly the decision is to finance a little longer," said Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the city's Pan Am sub-committee.

Greg Stack, a spokesperson for Ontario Sports Solutions, would not comment on the stadium and directed questions about it to Infrastructure Ontario. John McKendrick, vice-president of the crown corporation, told The Globe that scheduling has been a problem with all threevenues ONSS is building and has contributed to delays. As previously reported in The Globe, two construction union officials in Hamilton said ONSS had made an engineering miscalculation on the Hamilton venue, which required redesigning the structural frame of the stadium and fabricating new steel, ultimately setting the process back several months.

Mr. Ferguson believes there should be greater consequences for contractors if they miss deadlines. Many decades ago when he worked on the expansion of a stretch of Highway 401, he recalls the contract stated that if the builder finished a day early, it would receive a $500,000 bonus. Each day late came with a $500,000 penalty.

"You need that kind of impact to influence how contractors think," he said.

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Of the six largest Pan Am facilities, all missed their original completion deadlines, though two have been opened.

With a report from David Shoalts.

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About the Author

Dakshana Bascaramurty is a national news reporter who writes about race and ethnicity. She won a 2013 National Newspaper Award in beat reporting for her coverage of changing demographics in the 905 region. Previously, she was a feature writer for Globe Life. More

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