Architecture

On Time and On Budget: How Hamilton Lost its High Quality Groove

Treating quality as an unwanted orphan is creating a problem that will haunt Hamilton for many, many years to come. The approach results in less than ideal results. It's as if OK is good enough for Hamiltonians.

By Graham Crawford
Published April 05, 2010

Ripped from the pages of True Detective! Hamilton Police mount massive search for missing partner. On Time and On Budget stunned by disappearance of long-time associate High Quality. Read all about it here!

The Hamilton Police Service announced today they have launched a massive search for High Quality, described as a long-time business partner of two well-known Hamiltonians, On Time and On Budget. A police spokesperson said the search for the missing associate was underway, but they have few leads. "We take this disappearance very seriously, very seriously indeed," stated a police spokesperson.

"We're rarely apart," said On Time, one of the three partners. "It's just not like him to be gone this long." On Budget added, "We miss him terribly. We're not complete without him."

For years, the three have been well-known around Hamilton. "We've worked together so well for so long. People expect the three of us to be together like when we did the Pigott building, and the old Post Office on John, and the CN Train Station," commented a clearly distressed On Time. "We've always worked hand in glove like a real team should. Look at the results. Those places are as important today as they were when they first opened."

On Budget added to the list, citing City Hall, the Board of Education building, Victoria Hall, the old Bank of Montreal building on James South, and the Waterfront Trail. "We couldn't have done such work without the three of us pulling together, each doing what we do best. It's like each of us is one leg of a three-legged stool. Take one away and watch out."

When asked when they first noticed High Quality had gone missing, the two were quick to agree he had been acting a bit distant during the design phase of the new Centre Mall. "You could tell his heart wasn't in it. He could barely bother to be involved, but I think the two of us really got worried when we started on the City Hall renovations," lamented On Time. On Budget quickly added, "He just stepped out for a walk one day and never came back. The longer he stayed away, the more obvious his absence became. Now look at that concrete cladding. It's just awful and we both feel so terrible about this mess. It's hard not to take it personally."

Police say they are pursuing persons of interest, but when asked to name them, they refused citing concerns about threats of libel and slander.

This isn't exactly late-breaking news - more like heart-breaking news. It seems we have a new problem in Hamilton, a problem whose name we dare not speak - at least if you listen to some councillors, the Spectator Editorial Board and General Managers of certain City Departments as they repeat the mantra "On time and on budget," as if to suggest the rest of us should be cheering in the presence of such an obviously naked emperor. No clothes indeed.

Treating quality as an unwanted orphan is creating a problem that will haunt Hamilton for many, many years to come. The approach results in less than ideal results. It's as if OK is good enough for Hamiltonians.

It's time we started holding ourselves to a higher standard. It's time we started demanding more than just OK from our councillors, from our bureaucrats, and from our developers.

OK as a standard is for people who have inferiority issues, people who end up believing they're not worthy of anything better, people who tend to believe that something, anything, is better than nothing.

Live your life this way and you end living in an environment that reflects your poor self-image. Sounding familiar? Exactly. We need to bring Schedule, Cost and Quality back together for a reunion.

Concrete Example: City Hall

If you want a current example of how this problem is manifesting itself in Hamilton, look no further than our City Hall. When it was built, we chose marble, the material used for centuries to build or to clad important civic structures.

In fact, the "white Cherokee" marble that was once on our City Hall came from the very same quarry in South Carolina as the marble that clads the Washington Monument (the giant obelisk) in Washington D.C.

Now we have concrete, but it was put on in record time and for less than the original estimate. Feeling better?

If you think that's bad, wait 'til you see what they've done with Stan Roscoe's wonderful and now heritage-designated staircase on the ground floor, which takes you up to the grand hall on the second floor.

Exposed metal piping for a sprinkler system has been clumsily attached to the face of the staircase to permit the insertion of a reception desk under the stairs. People who have seen it are appalled by the poor quality of the work. On time. On budget.

Stuck on Stucco

As you have likely noticed, stucco is everywhere in Hamilton. Why? Because it's easy to apply and it's cheap (On time. On budget.) Will it stand the test of time? Who cares?

Think of every single stand-alone retail development built anywhere in Hamilton in the last few years: stucco boxes with windows and doors. Many have their backs turned to the street, like Centre Mall along Barton (On time. On budget).

Schedule, Cost and Quality

On the other hand, we do have Hamilton examples of where all three elements (Schedule, Cost, Quality) have been embraced equally. Consider the Waterfront Trail. It has been handled very well, at least in my opinion. It took some time. In fact, it had to be built in stages, but every stage had a budget and a set of quality standards that met or exceeded our expectations. It's a real jewel.

Just like Gage Park was when it first opened. There, the fountain was designed by well-regarded architect John Lyle, who also designed our High Level Bridge, the Royal Alexandra Theatre and Union Station in Toronto. At the time, quality was obviously part of the building equation in Hamilton.

A current example is a condo development at the corner of Herkimer and Bay Streets that seems to blend all three elements (cost, schedule, quality). The new owners of the Herkimer Apartments, as they work to turn the building into a condo, are refinishing every door, door-frame, floor, baseboard and fireplace mantel rather than replacing them.

It costs them more, but they believe the quality of what's there, not to mention its heritage, is worth the effort and the expense. It would be cheaper and faster to gut the place, but they're taking a different approach. I hope it all works out for them.

Another example is Victoria Hall on Gore Park. Yes, it's a designated heritage structure. In fact, it's a national historic site, so the owner had to manage his renovations accordingly. But hey, Hamilton City Hall is a designated structure. Here, the owner has restored one of the few remaining metal-clad building facades in Canada to its former glory. It began as a quality building, and so it remains. Well done.

Find the Right Balance

Lest you think I'm all for quality at any cost, think again. Project management, just like leadership, is all about making difficult decisions and finding the right balance between vision and available resources. Project management, just like leadership, also can be done well or poorly, but when easy and cheap are your stated and oft repeated standards, you tend to get just that.

Quality includes quality of materials, of workmanship, of design and of thinking. Quality doesn't necessarily have to cost more. Experience and skill can often deliver a high quality product for the same money as those who possess neither.

So what should we do? Well, we could start by working on a comprehensive plan to ensure City of Hamilton-driven projects ensure all three elements are invited to the party. When compromises have to be made, and they usually do, we shouldn't always put quality either at the bottom of the list, or worse, remove it from the list entirely.

The next time you hear a councillor tell us we should be celebrating because a project has been completed in on time and on budget, or ahead of schedule and below budget, be sure to ask him or her to comment on the quality of the finished product.

Ask him or her why Hamiltonians now have to settle for OK when in the past we seemed to embrace quality and legacy as part of how we defined ourselves as citizens and as a city. Ask.


This essay was first published in the April, 2010 issue of H Magazine.

Graham Crawford was raised in Hamilton, moving to Toronto in 1980 where he spent 25 years as the owner of a successful management consulting firm that he sold in 2000. He retired and moved back to Hamilton in 2005 and became involved in heritage and neighbourhood issues. He opened Hamilton HIStory + HERitage on James North in 2007, a multi-media exhibition space (aka a storefront museum) celebrating the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted April 05, 2010 at 13:11:54

Good, fast, cheap - pick 2.

Come to think of it, I think they only picked 1.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted April 05, 2010 at 13:37:45

Good article, Graham. I don't think the problem is restricted to Hamilton as much as it is a general problem in North American culture. We want things now and we want things cheap. It's reflected in the establishments that pop up and the highways that we lay out as if they're going out of style. Time to break the trend and to ACTUALLY reach, dream, and shine.

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted April 05, 2010 at 14:39:53

The view at city hall is to build things that are functional rather than aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, the economic situation this city is in has dictated that course of action.

It has been like this for the last 25 years, they either underbuild in the case of new buildings or put off repairs to existing buildings in the hopes that the economic situation will improve.

It's not that the politicians in this city don't want to do the right thing, they do. But if they want to get re elected, and what politician doesn't, the appearance of fiscal responsibility is a must. It's all about economics.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 05, 2010 at 14:53:45

The view at city hall is to build things that are functional rather than aesthetically pleasing.

Being aesthetically pleasing is part of being functional. The function of building cheap and ugly is to communicate to potential investors "We don't actually care about our own city; so why should you?"

Comment edited by nobrainer on 2010-04-05 13:54:44

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 05, 2010 at 15:31:56

I'm planning a blog entry on this topic, but I think some heads need to roll for the utter lack of budget projections on this project. To the average person, the 2 most visible and notable heritage features of this building were it's exterior marble and stainless steel trimwork. It looks like a kids toy now with the ugly concrete and wilting aluminum trim.

The cost for both the steel trim and limestone was pegged at around $3.5 million. We are now being told that the project is $4 million under budget.
In other words, we butchered the project because someone didn't do their job properly (unless the numbers were intentionally crunched in this manner, but I'll leave that alone for now).

There was NO reason to eliminate the limestone and stainless steel option. In fact, had we made those choices we'd still be half a million under budget.

Every major project has someone in charge and I'd like to know where the buck stops with this fiasco. We hear it all the time in this city - if a business operated like this, they'd be out of business. Do you think homebuilders sell homes to the public and then after it's built say "wow, look at that. It cost us 10% less than we had projected." Highly unlikely.

This thing is a complete joke no matter which angle you take - sadly, that includes the building itself.

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By Skeptic (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2010 at 18:56:21

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2010 at 03:36:16

I don't know what it is about Hamilton? The roads are worn out, the sewers need replacing and yet we have more debt than other GTA communities. How does it help anyone to live in a city that looks like it's wearing out? Does that help increase property values?

Hamilton had 504K people as of 2006 and tax revenues in 2008 were $819M (including money that goes for education), or $1625/person. Oakville had 165k as of 2006 and it's tax revenues were $348M, or per person 2,109/person. Burlington's numbers were similar to Oakville's.

If Hamilton collected as much in taxes as our GTA neighbours collect, this would mean that Hamilton City Hall would have had an additional $243.9M in 2008 to spend on making the city a better place. Does anyone think that this additional quarter billion dollars be helpful in improving the quality of this city?

The choice we have to make is this, either we will pay up for high quality infrastructure and enjoy a healthier looking city, plus higher property values, or we can live on the cheap and watch as the city falls apart.

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By looking ahead (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2010 at 06:13:39

How can Hamiltonians positively influence the design and construction of the next big projects, the Pan Am Games facilities?

If the City wishes to transform itself, these facilities will be the showcase.

What exactly is the City going to get for its investment?

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By edb (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2010 at 15:53:45

You can rest assured that the various subs involved with this project over inflated their numbers during the bidding process. They all know full well that those involved on the city's end have no clue on true material/labor costs in construction let alone any real ability to make an informed decision on who actually should do the work. Essentially what we now have is painted pre-cast and a replication of the original building envelope with a new anchoring system. Of course it comes in "under budget" when the city's original estimate seems to have been done with cocktail napkins and a box of crayons. The sad reality is that this horrible monstrosity even with its projected "savings" is probably still overpriced by about 5 million.
O ya, let’s not forget the 35 million federal infrastructure money the city so cleverly threw into this sham. I guess the pothole problem in this city must have been solved when I wasn't looking.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 06, 2010 at 22:05:58

figure out a way to bring San Diego's climate here and you'll solve the pothole problem. I'd rather spend money on worthwhile projects instead of potholes, but not when those projects are mismanaged and in this case, a stunning piece of architecture not found anywhere else in Canada is butchered on purpose.

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By Moneypenny (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2010 at 04:53:12

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 07, 2010 at 13:06:23

More taxes??? Seriously More roads, that is your solution?

Comparing Hamilton to the more affluent cities of Burlington and Oakville is the absolute definition of apples to oranges.

I think you might want to find a more stable tax base before you even consider raising taxes... oh and maybe some steps to prevent plain old WASTE on the part of city government might help to.

Giving them more money to piss away wouldn't be my first course of action that's for sure.

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2010 at 15:37:27

When you include regional spending, Burlington spent $2,536 per person on government goods and services, excluding social service costs. On the other hand, Hamilton only spent $1,998 in 2008. How is it possible for Hamilton to ever compete with Burlington in terms of quality of life, if we aren't willing to pay what they do? In other words, should we be surprised that people think Burlington is a nicer place to live than run down Hamilton?

To put into perspective what an additional $250M dollars every year would do, the entire red Hill Expressway was built for around $220M. Until Hamilton figures out that it takes money to keep a city in good working order, we will remain the "dollar store" of cities, appealing to those who like buying things cheap.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 07, 2010 at 15:57:32

Part of the problem is what is "common" anymore grassroots?

We may all agree "we need the basics, food and water" but there will be countless different opinions on how to provide that. Some will argue the system you and I may view as the problem is the best method and vice versa. We have been successfully divided and conquered.

I also agree with the author's comments on journalists. My late father was a true journalist for what was originally a privately owned local newspaper in southern Ontario. He sought to educate and inform his readers through his opinion column until Southam bought the paper and thought he was too opinionated (and not of their variety of opinion)… he finished his career doing entertainment reviews. That was almost 20 years ago.

Mainstream journalism is dead, has been for a long time… nothing but talking heads remain.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 07, 2010 at 16:03:33

OOPS that shouldn't have been posted here... my apologies for loss of continuity : )

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 07, 2010 at 16:19:24

When you include regional spending, Burlington spent $2,536 per person on government goods and services, excluding social service costs. On the other hand, Hamilton only spent $1,998 in 2008. - More roads

According to the 2006 census Hamilton's average household income was ~$64K, Burlington's was ~$93K. Maybe that is why they can afford to pay more per person?

1/3 of Hamilton's population lives in poverty another big chunk is in low to middle incomes. People are losing jobs and having wages frozen while everything else they require (food, clothes, heat, water, etc…) rises in cost. We are over taxed, not under taxed, yet your answer to what ails the city is to tax us more???

Your tax and spend mentality is nonsense, we pay enough in this country and this city. It is time for all levels of government to use money more wisely not just ask for more of it.

I could go on but really there is no point you are obviously of one mind set and I am simply not going to agree with you. Now if you want to talk about changing to a more progressive tax system (less income, more consumption) or using tax money in better and less wasteful ways, than I'm with you; but just plain more taxes… no way.

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2010 at 18:46:36

This data is from the 2006 Census and the latest annual reports of the respective cities...

These numbers show that as government spending increases, so do home values. Not only that, but home values tend to increase faster than spending...

Toronto non welfare spending/person = $2,940
Toronto average dwelling price = $413,574
Average dwelling price = 141 times the value of annual government spending/person

Burlington non welfare spending/person = $2,536
Burlington average dwelling price = $348,041
= 137

Hamilton non welfare spending/person = $1,998
Hamilton average dwelling price = $252,248
= 126

If government spending is wasteful, how do you explain the fact that Toronto's home price/(government spending per capita) is higher than both Burlington and Oakville? The numbers indicate to me that government spending adds more in economic value and asset appreciation than it costs in taxes.

As for taxes, if you assume that the average tax rate in Hamilton is 1.5%, that means that the median house pays $252k * 0.015 = $3,780

Burlington = 348k * 0.108 = $3,758
Toronto = 413K * .0854 = $3,527

Here you can see that Hamilton tops the list of taxes paid. However, because Hamilton has taken the road of living on the cheap, should we be surprised that businesses have moved to greener pastures? By not investing in the things that make cities livable, we have chased businesses and higher income residents away. The result is that poor people are now carry a heavier burden.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 08, 2010 at 10:37:36

If government spending is wasteful, how do you explain the fact that Toronto's home price/(government spending per capita) is higher than both Burlington and Oakville? The numbers indicate to me that government spending adds more in economic value and asset appreciation than it costs in taxes. - More Roads

I never said governments shouldn't spend money, that is putting words in my mouth. I said they should be spending money wiser not just going back to the tax payer well every time there is a need for more cash. Governments waste money, if you don't believe that, that's fine. But I will kindly disagree with you.

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By Puto (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2010 at 16:21:04

There has been talk that the new pan am stadium will not be build with the highest quality materials, which brings some concern about the eventual expansion (if that ever even happens)and the longevity of the stadium and costs to maintain it. Not to mention safety.

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2010 at 17:16:27

Kiely, "I said they should be spending money wiser not just going back to the tax payer well every time there is a need for more cash."

What evidence do you have to suggest that governments are not spending wisely? The numbers I have presented show that when local governments spend more (Burlington and Toronto) on non-welfare goods and services, home prices rise and the tax burden on families falls.

"Governments waste money, if you don't believe that, that's fine."

Okay, let's assume that they do waste money. If the result of this waste is a city with higher property values, more jobs, lower residential tax burden, why is this a bad thing?

Unless, of course you think that Toronto, with it's 50% higher budget per person, wastes less money than Hamilton. If this is the case, what would you spend less on and what would you spend more on?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 08, 2010 at 20:15:41

The thesis is different, but the writing style and post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning are identical. I'm going go go ahead and say that "More Roads" is the latest incarnation of "A Smith". Maybe I need to change my screen name.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 09, 2010 at 09:31:02

What evidence do you have to suggest that governments are not spending wisely? - More roads

Holy smokes More roads… really???

Bureaucrats you and I wouldn't recognize sitting next to us on a bus or train are taking private limos, millions spent on "consultants" that are nothing but political friends, millions spent on studies and inquiries only to have the recommendations ignored, millions and even billions spent on boondoggles like the gun registry and botched programs like Ontario's electronic health records, bureaucrats paid mid 6 figures (and receiving bonuses) to run said boondoggles and botched programs, ridiculous office budgets (do we really need to buy new furniture every time someone takes over an office in the House of Commons?), gold plated pensions backed up with taxpayer money, a "missed fax" forcing city hall to eliminate competitors from bidding processes, etc, etc, etc…

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2010 at 18:09:24

Municipal non welfare spending per person

Toronto $2,940
Burlington $2,536
Hamilton $1,998

Dwelling prices/$ of government spending

Toronto 141
Burlington 137
Hamilton 126

Residential taxes per median dwelling

Hamilton $3,780
Burlington $3,758
Toronto $3,527

The OVERALL effect of government spending is correlated with a better city, improved real estate market and LOWER residential taxes. You may be correct in citing specific instances of government waste, but so what? You're missing the forest through the trees.

Hamilton needs to spend much more money (25-50% more per person) if we are ever going to become anything more than a dollar-store city. Worrying about a few instances of waste, which while appropriate, should not take away from the fact that Hamilton's problem is too little spending, not too much.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 11, 2010 at 11:52:48

You may be correct in citing specific instances of government waste, but so what? - More roads

Governments love people like you More roads.

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2010 at 18:49:02

What's not to love? :)

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By TnT (registered) | Posted April 15, 2010 at 20:01:07

I think a little bird just whispered it best describing Hamilton, "Cheap, cheap, cheap."

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2011 at 10:43:41

From Sunday's Guardian: How Britain is failing its modernist masterpieces

"These works are mostly public buildings, built by local authorities, and by a kind of civic confidence going back to Victorian times that, it would turn out, was in its death throes.... The modern descendants of the councillors who had these structures built now rush, in an Oedipal spasm, to slay them with the retail and leisure centres that will make their city look like everywhere else.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/may/29/modernist-architecture-demolished-listed-buildings

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 01, 2011 at 11:34:31

in an Oedipal spasm

Nailed it. God I love the Brits.

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