By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium is a waste of taxpayer money that will “never pay for itself”, a Cabinet minister admitted yesterday, amid steps taken to prevent a near-tripling of costs.
Desmond Bannister, pictured, minister of works, told Tribune Business that the Government was aiming to cap construction costs at “about $30m” rather than the $43.014m full scope of works to limit the Bahamian people’s financial exposure.
This newspaper has obtained internal Cabinet documents that reveal the Christie administration’s initial $16.5m “estimated project cost” threatened to increase by 160 percent - almost three times’ higher than the original budget.
The stadium’s costs have increased progressively since the project was conceived in 2014-2015, rapidly increasing to $18.75m and then just over $21m by the time the Christie administration was voted out of office in the May 2017 general election.
A November 27, 2017, construction “update” revealed that the “original funds required” subsequently soared to $32.917m through the addition of more than $6m in “contingencies” and “provisional sums” to cover any cost overruns.
Terran Rodgers, a Ministry of Works architect, said in the report that construction delays due to non-payment of the contractor, Woslee Construction, plus structural engineers and other professionals, had added some $1.711m to the cost.
And he warned that “additional funds required to complete the project” stood at $8.386m if the Government went through with adding “two auxiliary fields” and “high-level IT services”, taking the final cost to $43.014m.
Mr Bannister yesterday confirmed the Minnis administration had elected not to proceed with these facilities, which were outside the “original scope” of works, in the hopes of saving $5.5m and keeping project costs closer to $30m.
He revealed that the Christie administration’s expectations that the stadium would produce a return on the Bahamian people’s investment through attracting Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams to use the facility, along with major tournaments, would never materialise.
Describing the situation as “a disaster”, the Minister said the near-25 acre Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium “has the wrong orientation” and “a number of other challenges” that would prevent it from being certified as ‘fit for use’ by either MLB or NCAA teams.
While construction resumed two weeks ago in a bid to complete the long-delayed facility, Mr Bannister said the Minnis administration had been “stuck with a mess” that it is “extremely unhappy about”.
“That Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium has been a very expensive project for the Bahamian people,” the Minister confirmed to Tribune Business. “I’ve said it many times publicly; it’s poorly conceived and will be very, very expensive - about $30m.
“It is something that the Government inherited where about $13m was already in the ground. There was very little we could do except finish it. No, I can’t see it ever paying for itself. It will never be useful for MLB. It has the wrong orientation. There are a number of challenges with that stadium and the way it was conceived.”
A ‘minute paper’ obtained by Tribune Business, dated May 19, 2015, and signed by Calvin Balfour, then-permanent secretary in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, details the Cabinet approvals obtained by the Christie administration’s Ministry of Works for the provision of architectural, construction oversight and other services for the stadium.
It also references a Cabinet discussions where the then-minister of youth, sports and culture, Dr Danny Johnson, expressed optimism that the Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium “was expected to pay for itself as a number of US baseball teams had expressed interest in utilising the field”.
“Importantly, within the country 1,800 children and young adults were actively playing the game of baseball, and approximately 225 Bahamian students were playing on US college and elite high school baseball teams, [with] the game introduced in Ministry of Education, Science and Technology schools as a sport,” the Cabinet paper continued.
Dr Johnson did not respond to a Tribune Business message seeking comment yesterday, but his assertion that the 5,000 seat stadium - with the capacity to add 5,000 more - would be self-sustaining financially is in stark contrast to Mr Bannister’s position.
The Minister of Works yesterday said he had “no evidence” that any economic modelling or impact studies were done by the former government to determine whether the Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium could indeed “pay for itself”.
“We have evidence before us that it’s a stadium, if they had thought it through properly, they would not have done what they’ve done,” Mr Bannister said.
The May 2015 ‘minute paper’ pegged the “estimated project cost” at $16.5m, with the total budget set at $18.75m. Arconcepts, the firm headed by architect Michael Foster, was approved to provide full architectural and management services for a sum of $1.444m - equivalent to 8.75 percent of the $16.5m “project cost” - which was added on top of these costs. Dant Clayton, a US firm, was also approved to provide grandstand design and construction services for $3.963m.
Problems, and costs, increased when the Christie administration failed to pay Woslee Construction for work performed on the stadium prior to the general election. “Due to non-payment (three months of non-payment), the contractor suspended work on site until the issue..... was addressed,” Mr Rodgers, the Ministry of Work architect, wrote in his November 27, 2017, paper.
The paper, sent to Ministry of Works permanent secretary, Colin Higgs, and other senior officials revealed that “all design consultants” working on the stadium stopped work at the same time because of non-payment.
While Woslee resumed on May 29, 2017, Mr Rodgers said this was “at a reduced scope as they were limited to what work could be executed” due to the continuing work suspension by unpaid structural engineers and other project consultants.
This state of affairs persisted through until November 17, 2017, due to delays in Cabinet approving funding to pay the consultants. This meant the original completion date for the Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium was missed, forcing the Ministry of Works to approve Woslee’s request to extend the project’s all-risk insurance.
“An item that is fast becoming a possible challenge for the project is the exposed structural steel members from Dant Clayton, and the exposed rebars on site,” Mr Rodgers said. “Deterioration is a concern, and the steel may require some level of treatment prior to any pouring of concrete. This is a cost that has been taken into consideration in the estimated additional funds required to complete the project.”
The upshot of all this was that a project initially estimated as costing $16.5m, and given an $18.75m budget, now required $32.917m - almost double the original projections - to complete. The increase was sparked by a jump in construction costs to $21.352m, and the inclusion of $4m and $2m in “provisional sums” and a “contingency” respectively.
Asked to explain the last two charges, Mr Bannister said yesterday: “What we’ve found in recent times with these projects is that the engineers and architects recommend putting in these provisional sums just to ensure funds are available to complete the project.
“They put in the additional funds because they generally find they’re unable to complete those projects at these prices. On a number of occasions they have been forced to use contingencies and provisional sums.”
Mr Rodgers’ paper, meanwhile, confirmed that $12.5m had already been spent on the Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium by end-November 2017, including $3.788m and $1.299m paid to Dant Clayton and Arconcepts, respectively. These sums represented 95 percent and 90 percent of the total sums due to them, respectively.
Warning that further taxpayer investment was required to complete the project, Mr Rodgers wrote: “Estimated cost due to the delay in construction from April 2017 to January 2018 (10 months) is $123,363 per month or $1.234m. The total, which includes the additional funds for design consultants, is $1.711m.
“Additional funds required to complete the project (February 2018 to December 2018, 45 weeks) is estimated at $8.386m. Estimated total spend to complete the entire complex is $43.014m. This total includes two items that were not a part of the original scope - the two auxiliary fields ($4m) and the high-level IT services required for the project $1.5m).
“If the client [Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture] decides not to build the additional fields and eliminate the high level IT design and install the total spend would be reduced by $5.5m.”
Mr Bannister yesterday said the Government had decided to act on that cost-cutting invitation. Given that construction only resumed in late August, the extra seven-month delay will likely add at least $861,000 in costs, with the stadium likely set for completion in mid-2019 - almost two years’ behind schedule.
“It is not something this government wanted to do,” the Minister added of the stadium’s completion. “The whole thing is really a disaster, a mess. We’re not happy at all. We’re extremely unhappy.
“This is a project that was poorly conceived. I don’t believe that the former administration thought it out properly; not at all. It is something that the current administration ended up being stuck with and not being very happy about it.”
One source intimately familiar with the stadium’s challenges, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium as “the quintessential model for wasting taxpayer dollars” so that a few persons can have a legacy or monument to themselves.
Yet they also questioned why the Government was effectively throwing good money after bad in seeking to complete an uneconomic facility when it constantly delivered the message that it has no money in the Public Treasury.
They added that the MLB would never approve the stadium for use because of its flawed design, absence of provisions for TV and IT, and dug-outs that were too small - backing the position taken by Mr Bannister.
“This seems to me to be the quintessential model for wasting taxpayer dollars. It’s a typical play where people believe they can use taxpayer monies for their benefit,” the source said.
“But if the Government is too broke to pay $5m for the IAAF Relays, how can it justify finding more money to complete an unqualified stadium where there is no moral or social justification for it? We’re too broke for the relays, too broke to support any sporting event, yet we do this with the stadium and do that with the hotel [Grand Lucayan].”