Audit of city buildings '95 pages of horror stories': councillor

Three of the City of Ottawa's office buildings are overcrowded to the point that they are in contravention of the safety codes and could pose a danger during a fire. That's one of the eyebrow-raising revelations in the report tabled Tuesday on the city's oversight of its 1,073 facilities.

Councillors dismayed over findings on how city buildings are being overseen

Ottawa Auditor General Ken Hughes delivered his final annual audit Tuesday before his term ends next month. One of his reports found the city's management of its own buildings sorely lacking. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Three of the City of Ottawa's office buildings are assigned so many employees that they are in contravention of the safety codes and could pose a danger during a fire.

That's one of the eyebrow-raising revelations in the report tabled Tuesday by Ottawa Auditor General Ken Hughes on the city's oversight of its 1,073 facilities, that found the city's "management practices require considerable improvement."

The audit looked at how the city manages its own buildings — including recreation and community centres, administrative offices, garages and water filtration plants, daycares and arenas — publicly owned assets that are, as Coun. Jean Cloutier put it, "vital to our city."

As we've heard before, the city isn't putting enough money into keeping up those vital public assets, although council's current plan is supposed to close that funding gap in seven years.

Meantime, the city appears to be pouring money into old buildings that should be replaced.

Ottawa's auditor general described serious concerns about the way the city's buildings are overseen. (Ottawa Auditor General presentation)

The audit identified 37 buildings where the cost of the planned work is actually $14 million more than replacing the buildings. There is $31.5 million planned for buildings with zero life remaining.

At the same time, almost half of all projects — 467 in the last six years — were unscheduled, because they were urgent reactive measures, while 2,100 maintenance projects worth $147 million that were supposed to be done this year have been deferred, which will make the work more expensive in the future.

Hughes also called into question management's ability to oversee facility projects, pointing the the four-year-old parking garage in the Glebe that must have its faulty waterproofing removed and replaced, and its electrical system repaired.

"It's like 95 pages of horror stories," said Coun. Carol Anne Meehan, who sits on the audit committee and said she was "disappointed and dismayed" by the findings.

Too many people pose fire hazard

One revelation in the report was that three of the city's administrative buildings — City Hall on Laurier Avenue, as well as the city facilities at 101 Centrepointe Drive and 100 Constellation Drive — have too many people working in them in non-COVID-19 times and are in contravention of the Ontario Building Code. 

The Constellation building, in particular, has 985 more people than it should, which could endanger workers there if there's an emergency.

"Over-accommodating a building puts occupants' health and safety at risk in the event of a fire as it can restrict the ability to exit the building," states the audit.

Staff 'didn't like the narrative' of audit

Hughes told the audit committee that he had trouble getting management to respond to the audit.

He had debriefed the relevant city managers in mid-August about his findings and sent along the draft audit report in mid-September. He said he heard about no serious issues at the time. 

In mid-October, senior staff asked to meet with Hughes' team over "significant concerns" with the audit.

"It was a pretty high-powered meeting," Hughes said. "Management could not identify any factual errors. But they indicated they didn't like the narrative in the audit."

In early November, management sent Hughes stacks of reports which his staff reviewed and found that 90 per cent of the information was irrelevant and another 10 per cent the auditor's office already had. Hughes didn't receive management's comments until Saturday afternoon, which is why they are not included in the audit.

The auditor general made 34 recommendations to improve oversight, accountability, records and potential cost savings. Management only disagreed with one to move to a more centralized system of asset management. Staff said the other 33 recommendations could be undertaken by the asset-management plan that council approved back in 2012.

The audit found that the strategy for that 2012 plan was still in draft mode.

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