Rangitīkei mayor Andy Watson has dubbed a report on the controversial Te Matapihi/Bulls Community Centre project "sobering reading".
The Rangitīkei District Council has received a report laying out the lessons that need to be learned from the project, after a long list of issues including delays, a ballooned budget and resignation of a councillor.
The report lists recommendations on how the council should appropriately manage projects of such magnitude, particularly around developing plans and ensuring capability, before initiating construction.
"What the report is essentially saying is that there are some lessons we need to learn," Watson said.
"Probably the single biggest one was around the project managership of the whole project. Essentially, suddenly council was involved in a project of a scale that our council had never been involved with before. Having an external project manager from day one would've been useful."
The report also states that compiling a business case demonstrating a given project's alignments with long-term strategic goals, as well as commercial viability, is fundamental to a successful outcome.
Watson said "key councillors" would now go through a directorship course to ensure councillors are "upskilled enough" around large projects.
"Yes, it cost more than we intended, but we have ended up with a world-class facility," Watson said.
Project marred by controversy
The idea to construct a new central location for all of Bulls' council facilities was first signed off by the council in 2015, and put out to public consultation in 2017 before it was signed off a second time.
Construction began in December 2018 but eventually began to face significant setbacks, with newly-appointed council chief executive Peter Beggs, just days into his tenure, pushing pause on the project in October 2019 to review its progress.
"It's fair to say there are some under and overs in the conversations I've had, some things have gone well and some things have gone not so well and that is entirely typical of a project of this size, magnitude and complexity," Beggs said at the time.
The project resumed after the review with an expected completion date of February 2020, but it quickly required the council to sign off on a further $2 million in funding.
Despite the original build cost being budgeted at about $5.6m, Beggs denied the requirement of further funding was a budget blowout, rather it was to "acknowledge the true and full cost of construction and related costs".
At the time, the council was told the construction cost was close to the initial budget, but professional fees, building consent, changes to the building plans sparked by consultation, furniture and fitout costs had not been included, meaning the cost ballooned to a forecast $8,242,113.
"It is common practice for councils to present infrastructure costs (such as this project) only in terms of construction costs," Beggs said.
"When I started in the role and analysed the situation, I considered it better for elected members to be appraised of the full cost of the building, and not just a portion of it. Elected members agreed with this approach."
Watson said the total net cost of the project is expected to be lower than the $8.24m figure, with the council yet to sell the previous town hall as well as the i-SITE, both of which have been replaced by Te Matapihi.
Covid-19 then delayed construction further, with the April 2020 opening date pushed back to September.
The centre finally opened in September, but there was more controversy when Southern Ward councillor Jane Dunn resigned in November, citing issues with a lack of a changing room in the facility.
Critic says report validates his concerns
Graeme Platt, a long-time opponent of the community centre, said the new report validates concerns he expressed from the beginning.
Platt, who stepped down as a councillor after the 2016-19 term, has opposed the idea of the new centre from the drawing-board days.
"A lot of people asked me to go back [on council] to try to stop this building," Platt said in early 2020.
"That was the main reason I went back and I tried for three years to put all sorts of cases up that the town didn't want it and it could never be justified and I failed."
This week Platt said the process had been flawed from the beginning, with poor management and consultation resulting in a facility not fit for purpose, nor necessarily demanded by Bulls residents.
"If you're doing a project, you've got to justify each part of it. It was a very complex project," Platt said.
"The reports that came back to council were very limited - in fact, almost nothing. All of this was done by staff. The result of that was that it blew out and was plagued with issues."