Skip to main content

A zamboni cleans the ice at Mary McCormick arena in Toronto.Della Rollins/The Globe and Mail

When the city decided to shell out $274,000 for environmentally friendly retrofits to Ted Reeve Community Arena in the Upper Beach, the investment was supposed to pay for itself in cheaper energy bills.

Instead, virtually no savings materialized and the arena board struck an agreement to pay back only $51,114 of the upfront costs, according to Michael Haughton, the facility's long-time manager. "It's a disaster for the taxpayers of Toronto," he said, adding that he warned early on that the estimated savings were "incredibly ambitious."

The problem goes far beyond one rink, according to a scathing new report from Toronto's Auditor-General that says the city has no way of knowing whether the $21.1-million it spent retrofitting 89 arenas and more than 50 community centres and pools produced any real savings.

"The problem is there might have been a better place to spend our money where we would have truly had some measurable results that would have saved us more money and done more for the environment," said Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, chairman of the audit committee. "If you can't tell, how do you know?"

The report by Auditor-General Jeffrey Griffiths singles out for criticism a new "building automation system" installed at every arena at a total cost of $3.3-million. The equipment, which was supposed to slash energy bills by automatically adjusting heating, lighting and ice-pad cooling systems, has instead malfunctioned badly.

"In order to guarantee a more stable operating environment, many staff were disabling the building automation system. Obviously, in these circumstances, energy savings were not being maintained," the report says. "Problems attributed to the building automation system were resulting in public complaints such as insufficient lighting, inadequate heating and poor quality ice surfaces."

Toronto's $36-million Energy Retrofit Program, created under former mayor David Miller in 2004, was intended to make more than 250 city-owned facilities more efficient, paying for itself in a decade. The audit focuses on one slice of the retrofit program: Arenas, community centres and pools.

The city spent $9.9-million retrofitting 89 arenas, work that was completed by an outside contractor in June, 2007.

It doled out $6-million retrofitting 53 community centres and pools by the end of 2008 and $1.75-million upgrading lighting at 59 community centres and pools in 2010.

Another $3.5-million has been budgeted for "general energy efficiency measures" in 83 other, smaller facilities, work that is supposed to be finished by mid-2013.

Mr. Haughton said the board of Ted Reeve – which is one of eight owned by the city but managed by its own arms-length board – was reluctant to sign on to the Energy Retrofit Program.

"One of the reasons they didn't want to go for this project was these savings weren't achievable," said Mr. Haughton, who has managed the arena since 1998. "But I kept pointing out we're kind of in a win-win situation here because the project guarantees the savings. So if the savings don't materialize, we get all the equipment for nothing. Which is what's happened."

Ted Reeve's case is the only one mentioned by name in Mr. Griffiths's audit.

The report says savings there were originally projected at $33,645 annually, but "arena staff were able to demonstrate that actual savings realized were only $6,400 a year and their budget reduction was adjusted accordingly."

Mr. Haughton said that when the arena saw virtually no change in its energy bills, the board and the city agreed on the new figure of $6,400 a year (or just over $51,000 over eight years) because that was the amount Ted Reeve used to pay to rent hot water tanks.

The arena received its own, new hot water tanks as part of the retrofit.

"They were able to put a hard cost on something, so we agreed, we'll pay that back," Mr. Haughton said. "But other than that there was no energy savings."

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe