Engineer Spencer Convinced Hospital Figures Altered

Rick Spencer

“Recommendations and costs were misrepresented,” says Rick Spencer. Photo courtesy of R.C. Spencer Associates Inc.

Engineer Spencer Convinced Hospital Figures Altered

After three years of punting the can down the road over the baffling selection of the urban sprawl location for the proposed $2 billion acute care mega-hospital for Windsor Essex, nagging doubts persist.

They come in the form of a letter written by consulting engineer Rick Spencer, dated January 25, 2016, to GEM Properties Inc.

GEM, an amalgam of five low profile property owners headed by George Papp of Papp Plastics, commissioned R.C. Spencer Associates Inc. to review an analysis of the facts and figures he previously submitted to the Site Selection Committee of Windsor Regional Hospital on behalf of the two short-listed proponents.

The purpose of re-deploying Spencer was to support an injunction, filed by GEM December 22, 2015, to halt a $6 million sale of a farmer’s field site on County Road 42, and a $10 million lawsuit against Windsor Regional, disputing the fairness and integrity of the verdict by the 11 person site selection committee.

The injunction was subsequently dropped and the lawsuit settled after the hospital chilled its foes by bringing in big legal guns from Toronto to escalate litigation costs well above the means and will of the GEM partners.

The earnest group also didn’t want to jeopardize the chances of Windsor Essex getting the hospital, as suggested by Windsor Regional CEO David Musyj.

Spencer’s letter vigorously disputed comments from hospital officials presented as facts, in a January 8, 2016 Windsor Star article, to justify the choice of the O’Keefe property, the bean field on County Road 42, over the fully-serviced GEM property at the east Windsor confluence of Tecumseh Road and Lauzon Parkway.

He concluded the numbers were skewed, underscoring suspicions that somebody from above tampered with the figures of a complex 32 criteria scoring system.

GEM was ranked the best site out of 22 applicants in the first phase of the competition. When price of the land was factored in, accounting for 30 percent of the final score, the O’Keefe property jumped ahead because its land was $1.6 million cheaper.

That’s peanuts,” Spencer told me, referring to the $1.6 million when compared to the huge cost advantages of the GEM site identified in his original April 16, 2015 reports on behalf of GEM and O’Keefe.

We were advised at the Phase 2 Site Selection Committee meeting that Stantec Consulting would review all reports to ensure consistency with the cost estimates submitted and would liaise directly with our firm to obtain agreement on same,” Spencer wrote in his four page letter to the GEM officials.

Spencer claims that consultation never happened, despite altered calculations and excluded known taxpayer costs from the final Phase 2 site evaluation that crowned the O’Keefe property the winners.

Spencer told me he was originally advised by Stantec that they were in agreement with his cost analysis, which determined there was only a minor external cost ($20,000 for a lift pump station) assessed to the in-fill GEM site, since sanitary sewers, water mains, hydro and gas servicing and ample back-up feeds have long been in place.

Yet, the Windsor Star article, gleaned from a news conference attended by Musyj on January 7, 2016, stated that the infrastructure costs directly tied to the hospital site at County Road 42 would be less than the cost for the GEM site.

That’s nonsense,” Spencer told me. “The O’Keefe site external costs included the extension of almost two kilometres of a 300 mm diameter water main and an ‘external’ outfall sewer to the Little River watercourse,” he wrote in his letter.

 He continues, “The external cost was $580,000 more for the O’Keefe site (than the GEM site) and it did not include any allowance for hydro distribution upgrades or plant extension if required.”

Transportation is the second major discrepancy in the comparative analysis.

There is no comparison between the two sites from the transportation perspective,” says Spencer flatly.

Firstly County Road 42 is a two lane arterial road that requires an estimated $25.7 million to upgrade to four lanes. By comparison, access to the GEM site is via Tecumseh Road which was recently upgraded to six lanes.

It appears they have changed the criteria provided in the RFP (Request For Proposals),” says Spencer.

The County Road 42 site was assigned a price of $100,000 per acre of land by the hospital consultants, plus extra costs estimated at $1.4 million, while the GEM site was asking $136,000 an acre plus $925,400 in extra costs.

The extra costs (assigned to GEM) are significantly more than our external services costing and should have been reviewed with our firm,” Spencer wrote in his letter.

I asked Spencer if he felt the final report was doctored, pardon the pun. “Certainly the results of the recommendations and costs were misrepresented,” he comments.

The hospital selection committee threw a couple of cost-crippling red herrings into the Phase 2 mix by including $26.9 million in upgrades to Tecumseh Road East to Banwell Road, and previously ignored Jefferson Boulevard, in the GEM calculations.

What does Jefferson have to do with anything?” asks a clearly rankled Spencer of the new requirement to upgrade Jefferson from two lanes to four. “Jefferson does not have arterial road status and is quite limited in length, i.e. E.C. Row Expressway to Tecumseh Road East, and does not have a full interchange at the Expressway.”

There is also no need to improve Tecumseh to Banwell, he adds, since any county traffic travelling westward to the GEM site can easily access it from E.C. Row and Lauzon Parkway.

Spencer says the Phase 2 costs of $26.9 million wrongly assigned to the GEM site for non-required access roads, plus the infrastructure needs not assigned to O’Keefe, easily offsets the $1.6 million O’Keefe advantage in the cost of the land.

All of this information and misinformation could be on the table when the province’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal stages a case management conference in Windsor on March 30.

The Tribunal is investigating whether the city violated good provincial and municipal planning and anti-urban sprawl principles by rezoning the Country Road 42 site from agriculture to residential and institutional.

Eric Gillespie, Lawyer for Citizens for an Accountable Mega-hospital Planning Process (CAMPP), which opposes the bean field site, should have fertile ground if Spencer is asked to testify.

Notified of Spencer’s assertions in this column, Windsor Regional forwarded this statement: “The GEM lawsuit was unsuccessful in obtaining an injunction and also was withdrawn as a result of lacking any merit. This was stated from the start by Windsor Regional Hospital and confirmed by the end result. It (the Spencer letter) has been referred to on many occasions by the small group that opposes the project. It is old news that is of little value.”

I understand fireworks could erupt due to evidence permitted at the Tribunal hearings, although the bean field champions, perhaps unwisely, do not seem to be concerned.

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Opinion Editorial. Alan Halberstadt is a career journalist who served on Windsor City Council for 17 years before deciding not to run for re-election in 2014. Alan Halberstadt believes all businesses share a common interest in how governments spend tax dollars. The emphasis of his columns is to expose and comment on the political gymnastics and taxation excesses of bureaucracies. As a former Windsor City Councillor he has a particular insight on how local municipal governments function or not. Opinions expressed by Alan Halberstadt are not necessarily those of Biz X magazine or its advertisers.