HEDLEY — Looking at it now, it’s hard to reconcile the Hedley Multi-Purpose Sports Facility with the original vision for the project that attracted $90,000 in government funding.
Besides an outdoor arena, the site at the north end of the village of 250 people features just two small buildings: one containing a single washroom and another used for storage.
Back in 2007, however, the facility was envisioned as a wheelchair-accessible community sports venue appropriate for tennis, hockey and basketball, complete with showers, washrooms, concession and change rooms for the benefit of everyone in Hedley.
“This project will provide a facility which will allow (residents) to be more active, help fight obesity,” stated the original funding application to the B.C. government’s LocalMotion grant program.
It was also expected to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists by getting cars off the road, since “90 per cent of the users of the facility can walk to the site.”
That promise was good enough to win a $45,000 grant from LocalMotion that was matched by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
Construction wrapped up in 2010 – three years after funding was awarded – and was overseen by Elef Christensen, who paid himself $1,900 to manage the project, plus $755 for his own labour.
During construction, Christensen also represented the community as the area director on the RDOS board. He was ousted by Angelique Wood in 2011, but won back the office from her in 2014.
Christensen acknowledges he’s heard concerns about how the facility turned out, but insists taxpayers “absolutely” got good value for their money.
“There was only one person that was trying to use that against me and she was running against me. That’s all that matters,” he said, referring to Wood.
Christensen was unable, however, to explain some discrepancies between what he bought with tax dollars and what actually went into the facility.
One irregularity in the project costs, outlined in documents obtained by the Herald from the RDOS through a freedom of information request, is an invoice for three toilets, two of which are nowhere to be found at the site.
Christensen said he thought two of the toilets may have been installed at a different Hedley park, then said they may have been returned to the supplier because the water inlets were the wrong size.
Construction of the two buildings, plus supplies, labour and site cleanup accounted for about half of the $90,000 tab for the facility, while the balance was spent putting up new boards and fencing around the arena and paving it.
The $45,000 contributed by the RDOS was routed through the Hedley Community Club, “so we didn’t have oversight on it at all,” said RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell.
RDOS staff did, however, issue at least 64 cheques to Christensen and others, and the board discussed concerns about the project at a closed meeting shortly before the 2014 election, the Herald has learned.
Newell confirmed the board discussed the matter, but said he couldn’t disclose what, if any, action was taken because the meeting was in camera.
Christensen, however, claims Wood instigated the discussion and the board simply “washed their hands of it.”
It’s a dead issue now, according to Newell, since Christensen “isn’t concerned about it,” and “the board really takes direction from the local elected official.”
Wood is currently running as the NDP candidate in the federal riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen- Nicola and didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Concerns have also been raised about the provincial grant program that helped pay for the sports centre.
While serving as B.C. auditor general, John Doyle wrote in a 2010 report that his office was unable to review the 2007 round of LocalMotion funding, which included the Hedley project, ”because no records were available.”
He noted his office was later given “some documentation in the form of 11 pages of handwritten notes… but this is inadequate to support distribution of $20 million.”
Doyle also found that although final reports were required from funding recipients, not every report was reviewed by government staff and no site visits were conducted to verify what was in the reports.
“This raises the risk that funding could be used for an unapproved project or that an unapproved variation to a funded project could occur during the period of the grant,” he wrote.
Hedley Community Club vice-president Doug Bratt believes most government grant money “isn’t supervised as good as it should be,” but in the case of his community’s sports facility, “at least there’s some infrastructure there.”
“Do I think it was not done as well as it should have been? Yes, but it’s there, so we do have that,” said Bratt.
“Kids do use it.”