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Feb.6 meeting follow-up post #7

7. Déjà vu: environmental costs of the Dufferin rink project

The official city statement about Dufferin Rink is: the rink and its refrigeration system, rink slab, concrete header trench, dasher boards, fencing, and rink's flood lights are assessed to be in fair condition, but are near the end of their life cycle and require replacement.

Déjà vu: When we read the city’s “rink requires replacement” statement, those of us who remember the Dufferin Grove wading pool replacement dustup of 2008/09 thought: oh no, here we go again.


In 2007, the Ward 18 city councillor of that time, Adam Giambrone, passed along a message from Capital Projects supervisor Peter Didiano: "the wading pool needs replacement."

A wading pool is really a big concrete bathtub. When the park’s on-site staff looked at the proposed plans, they were astonished to see that the plan called for the concrete to be broken up and carted away, but not for the creaky, rusty old pool plumbing to be replaced. There would be new concrete poured, though -- maybe in a slightly different shape, more stylish.

The staff asked for new plumbing that would actually work. That was added into the plans, somewhat grudgingly. Then a city forester mentioned to someone on the staff that digging up the 3-to-4-foot-deep concrete of the pool (built in the 1950s) would very likely do lots of damage to the big Norway maples whose roots had grown around the pool's underside over the decades. If the trees die, there goes the kids' shade and all the other good things that large trees do.

That message raised an alarm. Word got out, and a struggle began in the neighbourhood. A few people warned that concrete manufacture is an energy hog, so the old pool should be kept. A lot of parents wanted the shade more than the stylish pool. But others said that the Norway maples were near the end of their life cycle anyway, and new trees could be planted. Signs went up on lamp posts and local school bulletin boards saying, ignore the nay-sayers, it’s about time that Dufferin Grove Park got a state-of-the-art renovation.

In the end, tree protection won out. The plan was modified to leave the concrete – which had no structural problems – in place. But that decision brought about a different problem. The budget line for the wading pool project was $250,000. As I wrote in my first post, a percentage of the costs for large building projects goes to the Capital Projects payroll fund. If the most ambitious part of the wading pool project – involving the concrete replacement – was cancelled, the payroll amount would be a lot less.

To compensate (I’m guessing here), two new elements were added to the project. One was excellent. Councillor Giambrone persuaded the planners to use some of the funds to finally pave the park’s dirt-and-gravel central path. CELOS had been lobbying for that for years. It meant that people who use wheels (wheelchairs, strollers, bikes) would find it much easier to get to the wading pool from the street, and to anywhere else in the park as well.

The second element was experimental. To make the pool surface smoother (why?) the city planners decided to coat the pool with a mix called cementitious plastic.

The path and the coating brought the final cost back up to $227,401, much closer to the original budget. Payroll percentage problem solved.

The pool coating was a pretty colour at the beginning and made the filled pool look lovely, like seawater. But kids started to slip and fall right away. In the years since then, there have been steady complaints from parents and wading pool staff, not to mention the children, about the slippery pool surface. But Capital Projects supervisor Peter Didiano, who came back several times when asked to have a look, has insisted all these years that there’s no problem and nothing to fix. (However, the Parks manager and the Tech general supervisor agreed in January to remove the slippery layer before the next wading pool season begins.)

Now Mr. Didiano is back again, supervising the rink capital project, which once again calls for the removal of a lot of concrete and replacement with more concrete.

The biggest, most disruptive, most environmentally damaging element of the rink project is the demolition of the concrete rink surfaces and their subsequent rebuilding, maybe in a slightly different shape, with new concrete.

Concrete is made with water and cement. From Wikipedia:

"The cement industry is one of the two largest producers of carbon dioxide (CO2), creating up to 5% of worldwide man-made emissions."

(1) To make concrete, cement first has to be heated to 1500 C. (2) The water needed for global concrete production accounts for almost a tenth of worldwide industrial water use. (3) Concrete demolition releases concrete dust into the local atmosphere.

The city's 2014 Dufferin Rink State of Good Repair (SOGR) report – which Mr.Didiano cites as requiring the demolition and rebuilding of the Dufferin Grove rink pads – is public, available for anyone to read. It was sent out to the design companies who bid on the project. It was also made available, after some struggle, to the members of the Community Resource Group (CRG), and posted on the city’s website. But here’s a puzzle: the SOGR report says that the concrete of the clubhouse has 76 good years left before it crumbles. The two concrete rink pads, though, poured at the same time, are reported as having only 6 years left.

It’s time to give that report a closer reading. The first thing you notice is that a lot of the report is guesswork. The CCI engineering company that worked on the report was told by city staff that almost everything at the rink dates from 1993. That information is wrong. The rink was built in 1993, but things get maintenance. Problems have come up and been fixed in the years since then, sometimes involving big construction, like the stabilizing of the floor under the compressors in 1999 and the replacement of the brine collector pipes in the header trench in 2007. Dasher boards were replaced when they splintered. Floodlights and indoor fluorescents were switched to energy-saving fixtures. The rubber flooring in the clubhouse was replaced twice. And so on. But the audit engineers were not told any of this, because – as we found out a few months ago – the Parks department keeps no log of its maintenance jobs, so there is no actual record of what work was done over the years. And some of the city’s tech services workers have retired, taking their part of the institutional memory with them.

So the consultant engineers who do SOGR reports for the Parks department fall back on the assumption that each element of the rink has a predictable length of life from the date of construction, usually 25 years (but 100 years for concrete). – That’s just like human beings, who predictably live for the biblical “three-score-and-ten” (70) years, right?

Wrong, of course. Neither people nor buildings are so predictable. The SOGR report assumes 30 years as the point at which any and all rink pads have reached their end. Yet in the case of Dufferin Rink, the city’s tech services contractor told me in January that his staff have seen no problems with the two rink slabs, despite their being 26 years old. * Even so, the Capital projects staff say that the outdoor rink is at the end of its life and the clubhouse needs major changes or demolition, at a cost of about $4.5 million.

There’s a broad economic justification for a big project like this one. It provides paid work for many people, and not only construction workers. The net of professionals who benefit from big municipal projects extends far beyond city planning staff. Thanks to the proliferation of government regulations and policies, there’s a long list of specialist consultants mentioned in the city’s Request for Proposals (RFP) for Dufferin Rink. Specialists will get a lot of contracts if the Dufferin Rink and clubhouse project goes ahead. The list not only includes architects (building, landscape, and planning), engineers (electrical, civil, structural, mechanical, refrigeration, geotechnical, environmental impact) and a “neutral facilitator” to get the community onside, but also a land surveyor, an Independent Fairness Consultant (to make sure the companies bidding for the contract are treated fairly), an arborist, an archeologist (although only toilet bowl shards were unearthed during the last excavation), an independent testing and inspection firm, a Supplier Diversity Organization, and a Professional Quantity Surveyor. Also being considered are third party consultants for Kitchen/Laundry/Solid Waste Management, for an updated Designated Substances Audit, for a Building Code/Fire Code/Life Safety report, for an Accessibility report, for Audio Visual Design, including cable TV service; and for Public Address System Design.

And the project gives work to lots of city staff as well. The bi-weekly Steering Committee meetings require staff from five different offices, sometimes more, to attend. Many more city staff are involved in the planning and permitting and drawing up of contracts, and in going to public meetings.

So it’s not hard to see that the Dufferin Grove Northwest Corner Project has considerable economic benefits, some of which may be local. Probably few of the carpenters or concrete finishers live near the park anymore, but some of the city staff and consultants do, and they, like everyone else, are faced with the ever-rising cost of living in Toronto. The economic activity generated by sub-contracts like the ones from the rink project may have helped them to buy a house in the neighbourhood, maybe through a local realtor, with contract help from a local lawyer, and renovation help from a local builder. It’s a win for everyone – except that the cost bubble grows bigger, and bigger. A vicious circle.

The Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Dufferin Rink project says that the City of Toronto has an Environmentally Responsible Procurement Policy which requires it to “conserve resources, mitigate pollution and waste, and promote a healthy economy.” The demolition of the rink pads and its replacement with new concrete, and perhaps the demolition of the concrete-block rink building and its replacement with another concrete-block or poured-concrete building, can’t possibly be made to fit this policy.

CELOS advocates instead a kind of degrowth, by declining most of the services on offer. That would conserve resources and reduce pollution. But then many of that long list of consultants, possibly our friends and our neighbours, would lose their contracts. Can we imagine the kind of "healthy economy" that could interrupt this vicious cycle?


* There are of course PVC pipes embedded in the concrete, to carry the brine that freezes the rink. Over the years, there have been occasional breaks in a pipe. When this happened, the problem showed up on the ice above the break, and that section of pipe was repaired. If there are too many breaks, then the rink slab needs to be replaced. That will take some construction time – but possibly quite a bit less time than the two years of the current project as proposed. And if the concrete replacement can be postponed for 10 years or even longer, that will be a considerable net gain for the environment.

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