‘We should be stopping the Brandt project entirely:’ Ryan Meili calls on halt to CNIB building

Central Services Minister Ken Cheveldayoff (left) and Opposition Leader Ryan Meili (right).
Central Services Minister Ken Cheveldayoff (left) and Opposition Leader Ryan Meili (right). File Photo / Global News

Saskatchewan Opposition Leader Ryan Meili is calling on the provincial government to pause the development of a new Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)/ Brandt building while the provincial auditor conducts her review.

“We should be stopping the Brandt project entirely and starting over. The way it’s been done, has been done wrong from the beginning. Firing the architects, firing the committee along the way, changing the rules to allow more commercial activity; it’s been handled wrong,” Meili said.

This comes after the auditor, Judy Ferguson, told Global News she was planning on including Provincial Capital Commission projects, including the CNIB/Brandt building in her annual review.

The review will not be looking at the specific subject matter of decisions, but whether or not decisions made followed legislated processes.

Central Services Minister Ken Cheveldayoff said he welcomes the auditor’s review and this is a normal part of government. He maintains that the project’s approval process followed proper procedure.

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“Let’s go back to the tender. When the national office of the CNIB went for tender, six companies requested information. Only one company came back with a proposal,” Cheveldayoff said. “So it
was fair and open to any company that wanted to participate.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan auditor planning to look into CNIB/Brandt building

On Meili’s comment regarding the architects being fired, Cheveldayoff said that the PCC board decided to “refresh” the Architectural Advisory Committee in June, 2018 and replace out of province architects with locals.

Cheveldayoff said this has not been a “slam-dunk” for the CNIB, as their now demolished local headquarters needed replacement since 2011.

The Regina-branch of the CNIB has been working out of a temporary location in downtown Regina since moving out of their old headquarters.

When asked about what stopping the build would mean for the CNIB, Meili said he couldn’t imagine another builder not coming in to help the CNIB.

“This was flagged by the architects that it wasn’t a good fit for the park. It’s flagged as a big change in commercial use. That is not the only option to get CNIB a new building,” Meili said.

Potential Brandt Profit

On top of calling for the project to be restarted, Meili and the NDP have come up with their own estimate on what Brandt may make from rent at the eventual building, $2.2 million.

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“We met and discussed with a number of real estate professionals, looking at the square footage of that building and what commercial rates are here in the province, and basing it on a $30 per-square-foot rate,” Meili said.

The real estate companies cited in the NDP estimate are the Altus Group and Colliers.

Meili described the revenue as “quite a substantial gift” from the Saskatchewan Party to one of their largest corporate donors.

In 2017, Brandt donated $16,000 to the Saskatchewan Party.

READ MORE: Regina city councillor worried about future of Wascana Park

The planned building is 77,000 square feet. The CNIB will occupy about 4,000 square feet, and Brandt, as the building owner, will rent space to other agencies and businesses. Cheveldayoff said he is under the impression the MS Society will also be a tenant.

The estimate also includes the 2019 assessed municipal property tax value from the City of Regina, $3.3 million.

“I haven’t seen the numbers,” Cheveldayoff said when asked about the NDP estimate.

“Really it’s about the return that is being given to the people of Saskatchewan and I think the return is being given through this wellness centre. We understand the MS Society is going to be in there, and the taxes that are going to be paid to the municipality.”

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