Centre Wellington is set to move ahead with the next phase of planning for a new operation centre, despite the opposition of some councillors, one of whom called for a public referendum on the issue in the next municipal election.
In a 4-3 vote at Monday’s committee of the whole meeting, council endorsed staff’s recommendation to build a new operations centre on a new site and directed staff to start looking for land. The decision still needs final approval at a regular council meeting.
The proposed new building will centralize the operations of various city departments, including public works, engineering, water services, parks and recreation, information technology, as well as provide vehicle and equipment storage.
Estimated to cost $27 million, the complex is planned to be built over two phases, with the first coming in around $16.5 million and the second – to be built 10 to 20 years later – pegged at $10.5 million.
The township will borrow money for the project and pay back loans using development charges and the sale of surplus land and buildings. That funding strategy means the cost of the facility’s construction will not impact taxation or water/wastewater rates, staff said in a report.
“We need to proceed with this project,” Coun. Ian MacRae told the meeting. “Retrofitting buildings that are near and the end of their useful service life just doesn't make sense.”
Meanwhile Coun. Stephen Kitras said staff’s plan for the new operations centre was “a classic demonstration of not distinguishing between needs and wants.”
He said he would prefer to see the township wait and build a new operation centre in tandem with the county.
According to a staff report, the county has indicated it will be at least 15 years before they are interested in building a joint facility. An evaluation by staff estimated this option at $41 million because of the cost to renovate and expand existing facilities in the interim. But Kitras said the price-tag would likely be much lower because of potential cost sharing with the county.
Coun. Bob Foster similarly wanted to see the item deferred and greater analysis of retrofitting existing buildings.
“This is a $27 million albatross," Foster said of the proposed new operations centre. "It’s going to saddle our community with a $27 million debt load.”
Whether the debt is paid using development charges or taxation is “immaterial,” Foster continued because “if the money is committed to this project, it can't be committed elsewhere."
Foster’s motion to postpone a decision on the operations centre until the next term of council and include a referendum on the matter on the municipal ballot failed 3-4. Those in favour were councillors Foster, Kirk McElwain and Kitras. Those opposed were councillors Steven VanLeeuwen, Neil Dunsmore, MacRae and Mayor Kelly Linton.
Linton said he didn’t “think it takes a rocket scientist” to see there’s a need to for change at current city facilities.
“This is a time for council to be visionary,” said Linton. “There always comes those times when the council has to make decisions on things that fall outside of their political cycle… This isn't about politics, this is about making sure that we're investing in a community that is going to be 50,000 people by 2041.”
A report on site selection is due back at council by the end of summer. Staff say their goal is to have the project shovel ready by the end of 2022 to be ready for potential post COVID-19 funding opportunities.
The new operations centre is needed to replace aging existing facilities, which staff say are “deteriorating and nearing the end of their service life.”
Overcrowding is so bad at some buildings city employees are using storage closets as work spaces, the city’s managing director of infrastructure services told council.
The first phase of construction of the new operation centre will see a full office, multiple garage bays and one greenhouse. Phase two would add another greenhouse, garage bays and a salt storage facility. After phase two, some existing facilities and land could be sold off but two satellite sites would remain in the east and west side of the township.
The purchase of at least 20 acres of land, preferably located close to Fergus, will be needed to build the operations centre on, staff said.
Alison Sandstrom, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com