Greenmeadows Centre in Stoke. Photo: Kate Russell.

Stoke Centre’s $1 million ‘lesson’

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Three years ago Nelson City Council approved a budget to build what would be an impressive civic building for Stoke.

It was due to open at the end of last year and would be fit for purpose and a source of pride.

But three years on, the Greenmeadows Centre is still under construction and last week council were handed a report from its staff – it was going to cost $1 million more than originally budgeted.

So what went wrong?

Since the project was green-lighted, it has been hampered by various budget blowouts and numerous delays.

Last Tuesday, staff told council that an unbudgeted $590,000 was needed to complete the project.

This means the Greenmeadows construction has not only eaten through all its funding – but also its entire allotted contingency fund.

What was once a $6.14 million project is now a $7.19 million lesson.

Concept plans were first approved in 2015 with an earmarked budget of $5.6 million.

Stoke sports and community groups were excited about their new home, while others questioned both the site and the cost.

The budget was then locked in at $6.14 million to allow for extra features, including bi-fold doors and a solar power generator.

Detailed designs were completed and tenders closed in June 2016. In the process, an extra $350,000 was approved to allow the contract to be awarded to an out-of-town construction company so to “not reduce the scope of the project”.

Work onsite kicked off at the end of 2016. It was supposed to start in March 2016.

In September 2017, council approved an additional $39,000 for an emergency electrical generator and another $75,000 for changes to the kitchen.

These extended the completion date to February 2018 – instead of the anticipated end of 2017. Now, it’s June 2018 – although work on the changing rooms has been advanced for the upcoming rugby season.

Other reasons for construction delays include the late delivery of structural steelwork, a shortage of experienced construction staff and asbestos.

Mayor Rachel Reese expressed her disappointment that the additional funding request came so late in the project.

“We understand that projects can be affected by various challenges, but to see a nine per cent increase in cost is concerning – especially as we have been closely watching progress and no budgetary concerns or risks were raised throughout 2017.

“This is one of the challenges for projects like this is that they are community projects, this isn’t like a commercial job where we putting it to the market. This building is being built for people who rely on these facilities.”

In his report to council, manager capital project Shane Davies said that staff have learnt a number of “key lessons” from the project.

These include: allowing more ‘realistic contingencies’ on complex projects, the need to undertake more comprehensive asbestos testing, to have all leases signed before work commences, ensuring elected members are kept informed, the need to better understand the entire scope of complex projects and acknowledging local contractors in all future tenders.

Users of the centre were given a hard-hat look at building progress last month, including Stoke Rugby Club and Stoke Seniors.

Stoke Rugby Club operations manager Kim Biggs says she’s “not surprised” with the delays and cost overruns, but is pleased that the changing sheds will be advanced.

“It’s going to be a fantastic facility – it’s just a bit disappointing that it’s taking so long.”

Lyndon Penketh, chairman of Stoke Seniors says they aren’t concerned about the delays and “don’t want to be involved with any comment on the cost”.

“We’re not under any pressure to move. We have our own hall that we can keep using, so we can live with it. We’re quite positive about the centre. We’ve been with it from the start. We’re getting on really well with council – so it’s a win/win.”

Despite learning some valuable lessons, Rachel says it’s now essential for staff and contractors to ensure a “high-quality civic building is completed that meets the needs of users for many years to come”.

“All the groups wanting to use the facility have their leases in place, and will be eager to get into the building as soon as possible.”

She says staff are confident that it will be completed by the end of June.

“But we don’t want to be opening a building with the landscaping not done.”