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Feb.6 meeting follow-up post #5

5. Design: “Why it has to be that way” (Part one of two.)

At the city’s February 6 public meeting about re-making Dufferin Rink and the clubhouse, the design firm that was hired by the city, DTAH, gave a presentation showing five alternative plans for the people at the meeting to consider. All of the plans called for a complete overhaul of the park’s kitchens. In her presentation to that meeting, DTAH’s lead designer, Megan Torza, said that the clubhouse has a kitchen that’s so below code it isn’t really a kitchen at all. This was acknowledged by nods from the Capital Projects staff sitting at the staff table.

To be clear: the two clubhouse kitchens, although small, really are kitchens. They were built with the help of two government community-nutrition grants, one provincial, one municipal. Toronto Public Health staff have been regularly inspecting these kitchens at least once a year, sometimes more often, for the past 14 years. If an inspection found a problem, instructions were given for what needed to be fixed, and were carried out. Then the two Public Health “Pass” signs were posted, every time.

So Megan Torza’s DTAH presentation at the public meeting raises a question: when Megan said that the clubhouse kitchen urgently needs to be brought “up to code,” does that mean that the city’s Capital Projects staff and the DTAH design staff feel that the city’s Public Health inspectors were mistaken in giving the kitchens a pass all these years? That would be a serious problem.

There was another puzzle. Megan showed the meeting a slide with a map indicating that the only “public cooking program” within a 2 km radius of Dufferin Grove is at Christie Pits. She suggested that if Dufferin Grove got a proper commercial kitchen like the one at Christie Pits, Dufferin Grove staff could offer public cooking programs too. But Christie Pits has no commercial kitchen. All that exists nearby is a small kitchen at the Bob Abate Rec Centre south of Christie Pits. It currently offers a one-hour weekly cooking program for ages 6 to 9 (limited to 8 participants), $74 for nine sessions. That’s all.

At Dufferin Grove, on the other hand, for 23 years, school classes and families have been making pizza at the park oven. Before 2012 there were 15 years of youth helping out in the kitchens and serving at the snack bar. There have been many hundreds of hours of people preparing food together, very often with non-staff helping, sometimes leading. Yet the DTAH presentation seemed not to recognize the park as the site of “public cooking programs.”

Lura, the “community consultation” contractor who runs the project meetings, did acknowledge the next day that there is in fact no commercial kitchen at Christie Pits. But they forwarded a few links from the design team, to show me the kind of kitchen that’s ideal for city-run centres: – Click through to the kitchen photo.

That link may clear up the puzzle. DTAH’s photo shows an institutional kitchen, of the kind you might have in a hospital, a nursing home, a school, or a large high-end restaurant.

In Toronto there are over 7000 restaurant kitchens of all sizes and layouts. All of them are commercial kitchens, but not many look like the photo DTAH sent me. Maybe -- for architects and design consultants and the city’s capital projects staff -- an institutional-style kitchen with all those shiny stainless steel counters and trolleys and giant dust hoods, is the only kind of “safe” kitchen design that they can accept. But the city’s public health staff, who inspect all those 7000+ restaurants year in and year out, know that there’s a wide variety of kitchen arrangements where people cook good food for others. If the city’s project team for Dufferin Grove, or the Feasibility Study consultants before them, had talked more to Public Health about the Dufferin Grove kitchens – and had spent more time at the park watching, instead of giving presentations – they could have started thinking about how small improvements could make everything work better without losing the friendly, surprising character of a clubhouse.

The problem is, they didn't spend the extra time. Maybe DTAH was too busy jumping through bureaucratic hoops. When a significant contract with the city comes up, design firms have to really scramble. In the case of Dufferin Grove, the city put out a 114-page Request for Proposals (RFP) package in late November 2017, followed by five amendments. (All of this – as I recently found out – is publicly posted on the city’s website, under “service contracts.”) There are normally only 3 to 4 weeks allowed, to send in a proposal. There are pages and pages of specifics that the design firm has to include, all the way down to such details as the amount budgeted for courier fees for delivering documents.

Before the RFP deadline, there was a chance for applicants to ask for clarifications. On the website I found this bemused question from a firm applying for the contract:

“[Since] The city does not know whether the project is a new build or a renovation….it is extremely difficult to cost our scope of work. Especially for the architectural and the structural components, but also for some of the other specialties. Would the City consider revising the fee chart to provide fees for each option (reno vs. new build)?”

I couldn’t really understand the city staff’s answer to this, but hopefully the designers could.

After a month of deliberation, DTAH was chosen as the design firm and awarded a contract of $694,747. Of this amount, $50,000 was available to pay a community consultation company. Lura’s initial contract with the city was finished when the RFP was released, but the RFP warned that there would be a need for “identifying and managing the issues and uncertainties that may arise by [sic] the stakeholders and community members throughout the course of this project.” In other words, there might be protests. So DTAH chose Lura to continue in its previous role.

Next, the contract had to get in the queue for approval from the city’s lawyers. Then the project team had to make a work plan. Finally, on October 17, 2018, after a gap of one year and 5 months since the previous Community Resource Group (CRG) meeting, the consultations resumed.

On the evening of the meeting, the designers had scheduled a walkabout around the outside of the clubhouse. But it was a very cold night, so that didn’t last long. Once the CRG members were inside the rink house and had warmed up, they were invited to “blue sky” about what they wanted to see. One of the members asked: when all these ideas are put on the table, who makes the decision? Megan Torza of DTAH said that the project team was aiming for a kind of synergy of decision-making. This will be a “very fluid and iterative process…relying on a kind of consensus to be built.” Their aim, she said, was about 80% satisfaction. “None of the options are going to be perfect, i.e. satisfy everybody, but we hope that the people who don’t like the end will at least see why it has to be that way.”

My next posting will be the other half of the design story: looking at the actual details of the plan so far, and the city’s reasons “why it has to be that way.”

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