City council will seek an independent auditor to answer questions regarding how the construction of a multi-purpose lacrosse box and concession building at Central Park skyrocketed more than $300,000 over budget.

The decision was made by a 5-1 vote at their regular council meeting last Tuesday.

Coun. Ginny Prowal was the lone dissenter and Coun. Diana Norgaard was not in attendance.

The parameters of this audit were not pinpointed at the meeting, nor were any costs determined for one before approving a motion to have an independent audit conducted.

“I’d have to work with council to define the scope of the audit and the nature of it,” said chief administrative officer Allan Chabot when Coun. Dave Baker asked how much an audit would cost.

“Is it looking at whether or not invoices came in and were properly approved and those amounts were paid, or is it more looking at the process and project management and who was supposed to do what?” he asked.

Coun. Prowal said she didn’t think an independent audit was the right option, preferring instead a performance review.

“Something that tells us who is supposed to do what, how it came about and did everybody do their job properly,” she said.

Coun. Mike Goetz, who brought the notice of motion for an audit forward at an earlier council meeting, said someone outside the City of Merritt needs to find these answers for the sake of objectivity.

“The key word here for me is ‘independent,’ and the reason I said independent is because any group investigating themselves is not going to work out very well,” he said.

“It may come back that council simply wasn’t involved enough,” he said.

Coun. Brown said the scope of the audit could be determined as they hire someone to conduct it. She said she views the audit as one that should focus on the management of the project as opposed to reviewing invoices.

Financial services manager Ken Ostraat told the Herald that if the audit is a financial one, the cost would be in the neighbourhood of $3,000.

As for an audit dealing with project management would be completely different, he didn’t know what that would cost the city.

“It could be five grand, it could be 20 grand,” Ostraat said.

He said council would need to approve the expenditure if an audit is to be conducted.

A two-page report summarizing the cost overruns came out in June and since then, Goetz said he’s been asked questions by community members.

He still has unanswered questions himself, he said.

The budget for the project was $753,000 and ended up costing the city more than $1 million.

Broken down, there was $512,000 for the contractor’s bid, $25,000 for LED lighting, $90,000 for utilities and landscaping and there was $126,000 left as a contingency, the report stated.

Numerous change orders resulted in the city spending most of the contingency fund, but the project was still under budget at that point.

There was about $70,000 in cost overruns just to bring the concession building up to code.

The original building plans only required the kitchen area of the concession/washroom building to be equipped with sprinklers and smoke detectors.

After most of the building had been constructed, the city discovered that under its own bylaw, the entire building was required to have fire suppression equipment installed, contrary to the plans previously approved by the building inspection department.

Major additions to the existing plumbing system, and utility installation were the result.

A mistake in the geotechnical study of the construction site, which is where the former beach volleyball court was located, sent the project costs off the rails.

Pit test holes missed large amounts of silt and clay in the ground and once excavation began, these materials were found to be widespread.

That resulted in the geotechnical engineer ordering the removal of a large amount of materials, in some spots digging four to five feet deeper than originally planned, leisure services manager Larry Plotnikoff said.

Extra costs totalling about $240,000 for rebar and concrete for the foundation and additional engineering costs were the result of this error.

Another $25,000 cost arose when BC Hydro changed its plans for power availability after engineers had already drawn up their own plans, the report stated.

Merritt Mayor Neil Menard said he’s still getting questions on a daily basis regarding this project’s cost overruns.