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City estimates park stairs will cost $65K-$150K; man builds them for $550

Who needs bloated government spending when you’ve got a handy 73-year-old Canadian with DIY skills?

When Adi Astl was told a set of stairs at his local park in Toronto would cost the city at least $65,000, the retired mechanic took matters into his own hands, building the steps himself for a mere $550.

“I thought, ‘This was ridiculous,’” Astl told TODAY upon hearing from city officials that the project could even go as high as $150,000. “You could build an escalator for that much.”

Bailey, Allison (206535176) / Courtesy of Adi Astl
What the embankment leading to Tom Riley Park looked like without the stairs, left, and after Adi Astl built a set of steps.

Nearly every day, Astl and his wife go to Tom Riley Park in the suburb of Etobicoke, where they spend time in a popular community garden, go for walks, and watch kids play soccer. He explained that before the steps were built, several people had fallen trying to go down a steep embankment leading to the park.

So with help from a homeless man who happened to be in the park, Astl built the eight steps out of wood in a matter of hours on June 22.

Astl’s wife, Gail Rutherford, 66, said she wasn’t surprised that her husband wanted to build the stairs. She described him as handy and helpful around the house, even rebuilding a neighbor’s cupboards so their new refrigerator would be able to fit in their kitchen.

“I had no doubt that he would build a solid set of stairs,” said Rutherford.

Courtesy of Adi Astl.
Adi Astl and his wife, Gail Rutherford, go to Tom Riley Park in Toronto nearly every day.

But soon after the steps were built, Astl was quickly told by the city that the stairs violated safety regulations.

The good news is the city announced on Friday that while officials need to take down Astl’s stairs, they would be replaced with a brand new set in a matter of days.

"The original cost estimate for the city of Toronto to build stairs in Tom Riley Park was absolutely ridiculous and out of whack with reality,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement. “I want to thank Mr. Astl for taking a stand on this issue. His homemade steps have sent a message that I know city staff have heard loud and clear. The city always needs to be looking for simple, cost-effective solutions to problems no matter how big or small they are.”

Don Peat, Tory’s director of communications, told TODAY the project would cost no more than $10,000. When asked how the city was able to come up with a more affordable solution, Peat said, “Mayor Tory asked staff to ‘sharpen their pencils’ and find a cost-effective solution that is safe and responds to the community's needs.”

Astl said he was happy with the outcome even though his set of stairs will come down. “I achieved what I wanted to achieve: to have a safe spot for people to go to the park,” he said.

Rutherford echoed that sentiment. “I think it’s a win-win all the way around,” she said.

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