Toronto’s stair master is happy with the city’s newest steps, but according to one municipal councillor, Mayor John Tory’s $10,000 estimate for the project is deceptively low.

City workers finished a new set of stairs in Toronto’s Tom Riley Park Friday afternoon. The steps replaced a wooden staircase constructed by 73-year-old Adi Astl -- a renegade handyman who quickly built stairs here for $550 after the city said that it would it would require $65,000 to $150,000 and nearly a year to build a permanent entryway. A muddy slope leading into the park’s garden, Astl had argued, was a safety concern for local seniors. The City of Toronto said that Astl’s wooden handiwork was a safety concern for all.

On Friday, Astl was back at the park as a work crew put finishing touches on the new stairway: 12 fresh cement steps with a shiny metal handrail. While it will still be a few days before he’ll be able to take his first step on them, Astl was pleased with the work.

“I think they’re fantastic,” he told CP24 from the scene. “They’re more stable than mine would be, but… mine were better looking.”

Astl also used the opportunity to thank local media for helping his story go international.

“I just did one step to build this thing -- you came along and made me a hero,” he said. “Which is great… I mean, who doesn’t want to a hero? But I always have to point out that we have a hero in our mayor. He phones me, he thanked me. There was a problem and he rectified it in five days… Unheard of!”

City councillor Shelley Carroll, however, sees things much differently. According to Carroll, who sits on both Toronto’s Budget and Parks and Environment Committees, Tory’s response to “Stairgate” reeked of “populist politics.”

In an electronic newsletter dated July 27, Carroll stated that because the stairs were built quickly by unionized city-employed workers, there was no “time to tender, no time to look for lowest bids.”

“Please know that it will not come in at the new cost of $10k so widely reported in the news,” Carroll added. “Not included in the $10K are any of the labour costs.”

What’s more, constructing the stairs, Carroll said, also pushed back other preapproved construction projects.

“Any work those labourers have set aside to resolve ‘Stairgate’ will have to be done before the season ends, resulting in yet more staff pay,” she wrote.

In the newsletter, Carroll also outlined several other issues relating to “Stairgate.” Namely, that the location of project experienced “natural storm runoff erosion” and thus “very uncertain earth” that would require significant (and expensive) work to make the stairs last. The $150,000 appraisal, Carroll said, was a “very rough estimate” for building a wheelchair-accessible ramp at the site. The $65,000 figure, she added, would likely have been significantly lowered by an open bidding process. Still, “it was City staff themselves who first assessed the cost of a proper job as not being worth the expense,” Carroll wrote.

Caroll said that the issue created a “media storm” that was remedied with “a troubling return of a certain kind of populist politics,” referencing the administration of the late Mayor Rob Ford.

“Frequently, projects like the stairs in Tom Riley Park get tendered out and the bids come back well below the original, casual estimates,” Carroll wrote. “When that happens, less cash goes out the door, less debt is incurred by the City and our budget is adhered to once again, as it is every year.”

With files from CP24