Mississauga delays millions of dollars needed to keep aging buildings safe due to lack of funds

·11 min read

On February 17, 2020, Rick Takacs and Mike Cicci stepped into Mississauga’s Garry W. Morden Fire Training Centre. The two-storey building acts as a training hub for Mississauga Fire, as well as the Department of National Defence.

The two men were inspectors sent by CBRE, a real estate firm that completes facility condition reports. The training centre was one of many municipal buildings in Mississauga they had been tasked with investigating, to assess their condition and the safety of those inside.

Once in the building, Takacs and Cicci caught the whiff of an unpleasant odour.

The stench was emanating from the repair shop and gave off a smell like sewage. The pair had been hired to write a detailed corporate report, including required costs to address their findings, to be studied and added to the City of Mississauga’s 10-year capital plan, a long-term blueprint used by elected officials and staff to ensure responsible budgeting was carried out to meet the most pressing needs of the municipality.

The smell was bad. They immediately emailed staff in the facilities and maintenance department to alert them.

“The repair shop was experiencing foul sewer gases at the time of review due to cross contamination issues,” their final report explained.

By the end of 2021, based on the expert opinion of CBRE, Mississauga should have spent almost a million dollars patching up its fire training hall. It has spent less than a quarter of that sum.

Answering questions through a spokesperson, Raj Sheth, director of the facilities and property management department, told The Pointer the two men were mistaken.

“The issue was not a result of sewer gases,” he wrote, without explaining what Takacs and Cicci had encountered. He said the City realized the space was not well-suited to a workshop and should instead be converted into an office, something that will take place during the 2022 budget process.

“The air quality posed no health or safety concerns for those working in the area,” Sheth said.

CBRE’s inspectors found a wide range of problems in the Mississauga buildings they were sent to assess. They recommended millions of dollars of repairs, much of which the City has not yet done due to “competing capital funding requests”, according to Sheth.

In total, CBRE’s 30 reports over 452 pages recommended almost $19 million in repairs and replacements that should have been budgeted and completed in 2021. But some of these specific jobs for the current year had either no money or only a small fraction of the money required actually budgeted in 2021. For example, only $159,000 of the $865,285 needed in 2021 for the fire training centre repairs was included in this year’s budget. Over five years, from 2021 to 2025, the cost to address all the required work is more than $142 million.

The stench, and possible danger the two inspectors encountered is one of the most urgent and least palatable examples of Mississauga’s neglected public buildings. It is also far from the only one.

The document CBRE completed, obtained by The Pointer through a freedom of information request, lists millions of dollars in vital repairs City Hall must undertake. It was ordered as part of a broader effort to understand the scope and scale of work Mississauga’s aging buildings required to keep staff, and the public safe.

The report was commissioned in 2018 and completed in 2020.

The City is in the process of digitizing its inventory of infrastructure to better track and predict when it will need to be replaced. Provincial rules enacted in 2017 under the Asset Management Planning for Municipal Infrastructure regulation require cities to focus more specifically on a codified list of infrastructure needs, centralizing systems to track aging assets.

In September, Mississauga wrapped up a plan for its core assets — roads, bridges and stormwater — and plans to do the same for its buildings in the near future, in order to ensure all municipal assets are properly maintained.

Think of it as a safeguard against a home succumbing to burst pipes or a collapsed roof.

The City’s 366 buildings have a replacement value of around $2 billion and include fire halls, theatres and libraries. Although they are only a portion of the infrastructure Mississauga owns, these buildings are the part of the municipal administration taxpayers interact with the most.

The march of time has put more of the City’s buildings in a dated state.

The majority were constructed more than 30 years ago, and several pre-date even the ‘80s. Older buildings require increasing maintenance, with most hitting a significant upgrade milestone 20 years after construction. Full renovations or rebuilds become necessary around 40 years after construction.

Within the walls of the Garry W. Morden Fire Training Facility, noxious odours were not the only issue the two inspectors encountered. The building, only constructed in 2012, is among the newer additions to Mississauga’s portfolio, but even some of the newer buildings have problems that crop up.

Takacs and Cicci noticed the roof was “in a disbonded condition” (its covering was failing to stick), while mechanical piping was “experiencing chronic leakage issues” that would need an extensive shutdown and significant funds to repair.

In total, inspectors recommended $46,000 in immediate repairs, followed by $865,285 in costs that should have been budgeted the following year, 2021.

“We have completed immediate repairs, installed access panels to allow staff to monitor and manage if additional repairs are required and have since completed the infrared scan,” Sheth said in reference to issues raised about the building’s roof. No figure was attached to the completed work.

Portions of the CBRE report were redacted in the copy released to The Pointer. The specific project names with associated repairs, for example, were not available, along with multiple sections that described repairs that were required.

The 2021 financial blueprint created by staff based on the budget decisions of elected officials, which consultants said should include $865,000-plus in repairs for the fire training facility, included just $159,000 that was approved by council. That expenditure was to repair the chronically leaking pipes, and the actual work is not planned to start until next year.

Out to 2023, Sheth says that a further $888,600 will be spent on the building. This work will address “all of the mechanical, electrical and building envelope issues from the CBRE assessment” as well as other issues. It will not include “lower priority (paint, carpet, etc.)” projects. Sheth said there are more capital costs than money available in the City’s capital budget.

“In the interim, the City has established a monitoring system and leaks have not progressed,” Sheth said.

The City’s emergency repairs budget, also obtained through a freedom of information request, shows that emergency funds were used in 2021 to repair a generator at the training centre.

“As with any consultant report, staff review the recommendations, and further validates to determine what work scope should be included within the City’s long term strategy (asset plan),” Sheth said. “It is important to note that there is often a cost variance between what the consultant recommends and what the project is estimated at.”

No figures beyond the $159,000 referenced are identified in the 2021 budget for the centre, and councillors have not yet approved future spending.

The City is still trying to address a $66-million ask this year from its fire department to repair and upgrade 17 of its 21 stations, after the work was neglected for more than a decade.

In many ways, Sheth and his department have an impossible job. The director was appointed in 2012, after former mayor Hazel McCallion had kept the City’s tax rate frozen for decades which made her wildly popular, but put the City on a collision course with the inevitable aging of its infrastructure. While taxes were frozen, City Hall failed to put money away and, as the bills now come due, current staff are dealing with a crisis they did not create, while today’s taxpayers cover the costs previous generations never paid for.

“If you have a roof and you know it lasts for 25 years, theoretically, you should be putting X number of dollars every year into a special bank account so that when the roof wears out, you have money [to repair it],” Jeff Jackson, Mississauga’s director, finance and treasurer told The Pointer in December, 2019. “But I doubt anybody does that, they wait until the time when the roof wears out and they’ve got to scramble to find money. I think the City is generally a little more proactive in that way, [and] do put away money, but as the municipality ages, people understand more and more that you need to pay for that.”

Much of Mississauga was built before the turn of the century when development charges flowed into City Hall like a river in springtime. Staff and councillors acted as if the snowmelt would never end; they pretended the drought would never come.

That flow has now dried to a trickle, and at the same time, the buildings developers once paid for are reaching a critical point, and only the taxpayers can cover the need for repairs and renewal as the asset life-cycle comes to an end.

The facilities and property management capital budget has grown to reflect this, and it still isn’t rising fast enough. In 2014, the department had a capital budget of less than $10 million, rising to $18 million in 2016, again to $37 million in 2020 and is set to cross the $50 million threshold in 2024.

The areas where this money will have to be spent are numerous; some of the repairs are urgent. But as Sheth acknowledged, there is not enough money to cover all the capital needs, as the infrastructure gap grows.

The Ontario Court of Justice on Burnhamthorpe Road provides another example. The building was constructed in 1977 and taken over by the City of Mississauga at the beginning of the 2000s.

It still has pipes in service from when it was first constructed, the CBRE report points out, making them 44 years old. Consultants recommended a comprehensive study of the building’s piping to “mitigate the risk of failure” in 2020 as the dated infrastructure deals with Canada’s temperature extremes. The City says the building has not seen a pipe failure at any point during the past five years.

The cost to address the issue was pegged at $8 million, $3 million in replacement costs by 2023 and $5 million by 2025, according to the CBRE study.

“With competing capital funding needs across the City, a balance is required to fund repairs and maintain state of good repair of the City’s many assets,” Sheth said.

Just to address repairs identified in about two-dozen of the City’s 366 buildings, the cost to 2025 was estimated at $142 million, an average of more than $28 million annually for just a fraction of the entire building and facility asset inventory.

In the 2021 budget, the entire “Lifecycle Renewal and Rehabilitation” line amount for the facilities and property management department is $23.4 million.

The pressures of aging infrastructure are in the hundreds of millions. According to the 2021 budget, Mississauga’s infrastructure gap sits at $291 million, a number that represents the difference between the annual depreciation of City infrastructure based on its replacement cost and the funding that has been put aside for those projects.

In addition, the City also has more than $1 billion in approved projects it does not have the money to fund.

“That being said, the City evaluated the recommendations from the consultant report and a further review is planned and will be bundled with other system assets for assessment in early 2022,” Sheth continued.

The Tomken Twin Arena will provide another funding headache for the department. Inspectors, who noted that a renewal study would be needed for the aging ice infrastructure, pegged the costs at $3.8 million in 2021. These funds have also not been set aside yet, and will potentially flow through 2022 and 2023 budgets, financial plans that are already groaning under pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The remaining lifecycle work plus other work validated by staff for this site (which includes roofing, building envelop replacement, mechanical and refrigeration plant renewals) has been budgeted totaling (sic) $7.85 million over the next two years, pending Council approval,” Sheth said.

With councillors sharpening their pencils for budget season in the weeks to come, many buildings may be forced to keep pushing back vital repairs and studies for years to come.

Email: isaac.callan@thepointer.com

Twitter: @isaaccallan

Tel: 647 561-4879

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