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Toronto Nathan Phillips Square renovation project may take until 2019

The elevated walkways around Nathan Phillips Square will not be repaired as part of cuts, detailed in a report for the city’s government management committee. Sections of the walkway are pictured on Dec 30 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

It's been five years since work began on Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square, but new staff estimates say it could take until 2019 for the finishing touches to be in place on the city's showcase public space and a budget of $70-million, up from the original $40-million price tag to get all the work done.

The new numbers are the latest in a series of delays and cost overruns on the project, which broke ground in 2010 with an original completion date of 2012.

Since then, unexpected construction costs and additions to the work have taken the budget from $40-million to $60-million. Plans by the city to raise about $24-million of the original cost from the private sector also never panned out, leaving taxpayers to cover all costs.

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At a committee meeting Monday, city staff told councillors that to finish work on parts of the square redesign that were cut as part of cost-saving efforts under former mayor Rob Ford would take roughly another $10-million. That work, which would need the approval of the budget committee and city council, could not begin until 2016 – after the end of the PanAm Games later this year. In the case of repairs to the ramp to the elevated walkway and green roof, the work would not be done until 2019, unless it is fast tracked with an infusion of new money.

"I always like projects to get done faster," said Josie Scioli, the city's chief corporate officer when asked by reporters about the long delays. " I think the team worked really hard to get to where they are. We want to get this done."

Councillor Pam McConnell said she and fellow downtown councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam would like the ramp completed by 2016, rather than 2019, as planned. To do that, they want to use some money from development projects in their wards to get the $600,000 needed.

During the campaign, Mayor John Tory often used the cost overruns and delays at Nathan Phillips Square as an example of the city's inability to manage large capital projects.

On Monday, Mr. Tory said he is "very dismayed" that the project went so over budget, vowing to put a stop to "this repeated over-budget performance."

The mayor said he has asked Councillor Paul Ainslie, chair of the government management committee, which received the staff report, to look at the list of work remaining and decide what needs to be done in order to "complete this project properly."

Mr. Ainslie said after the meeting he supports adding back the items cut to save money, including work on the Bay Street side of the square, rehabilitation of the elevated walkways and upgrades to the underground path connecting City Hall to the downtown's PATH network. During the meeting, he also asked staff to solicit interest in the construction and operation of a new restaurant on the square that would be paid for by the private sector. The $4-million project was cut from the redesign as part of cost-saving measures.

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"I'm okay with them," he said of the list of projects still to be done, noting they must be approved by city council.

He walked away from reporters when pressed about the costs and possible nine-year time frame for completion of all the work. "I'm done with this," he said.

Councillor Paula Fletcher, who is not a member of the committee, said the city needs to complete work on the square as soon as possible and blamed Mr. Ford for the delays, saying the project was characterized as a boondoggle by his administration.

"I'm tired of the tyranny of the former mayor when we are dealing with costs on this square," she said.

"It was not a priority for the past four years, it limped along. … Hopefully the new mayor will want to see it finished, done and dusted."

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