Stephen Harper bird sanctuary hits snags
An Israeli bird sanctuary named after Stephen Harper is more than a year behind schedule after running into a series of escalating cost overruns.
“The delays are disappointing, but we have been told the new completion date is summer 2019,” wrote Conservative Senator Linda Frum in a message to the National Post.
Together with her husband, Howard Sokolowski, Frum helped to spearhead the gathering of Canadian donations for the project in 2013. Next week, she is travelling to Israel to personally inspect the state of construction.
“We feel a personal responsibility to see the project completed and well executed,” she said.
The project’s full name is the Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary, Visitor and Education Centre.
Initially, the facility was supposed to be funded almost entirely by $5.7 million raised at a 2013 fundraiser for then prime minister Harper.
Organized by the Canadian branch of the Jewish National Fund, at the time it was cited as the most successful fundraising campaign in the group’s history.
Featuring a musical performance by Harper at the keyboard, it was also claimed to be the largest dinner ever hosted for a sitting Canadian prime minister.
However, after the reins were handed to the Israeli NGO Keren-Kayemet L’Yisrael, costs quickly began to mount.
“The development of the building was slowed by the introduction of new elements into the design which required detailed planning, engineering, permits and governmental approvals,” Lance Davis, CEO of JNF Canada, said in an email.
He added, “of course we would like the project to be finished as projected, but the construction delays are within reason for a project of this size.”
The tab for the project now exceeds $12 million. However, the extra expense is being covered solely by Keren-Kayemet L’Yisrael.
Said Davis, “The JNF Canada commitment has remained static.”
Originally intended to be completed in four years, the building remains visibly unfinished.
An investigation by Canadian Jewish News found that the site has an “air of abandonment” with only the barest form of a structure taking shape.
Davis told the National Post “work at the site is regular and ongoing.” Concrete pouring is expected to be finished by February, with steel structures being installed shortly thereafter.