Yesterday, City Council debated the replacement of the windows and cladding of the Civic Centre. I’m not surprised that this project has attracted quite a bit of public interest and that there are some misconceptions about why it is happening, which I would like to try to clear up.
To begin with, I want to make it clear that the renovations are not happening for aesthetic reasons. It’s being made because the current state of the windows and cladding present a health and safety issue. An asset review study that was done in 2014 recommended making the replacements as soon as possible, but no later than by 2018. It is a project that has to happen and we would be negligent to try and postpone it any longer.
The Civic Centre will be 42 years old this year and it is starting to feel the weight of those years. Extensive work was done on the roof last year. I think just about all of us understand that roofs wear out over time and eventually they have to be replaced. In this case, the replacement of the windows and cladding is similarly necessary.
It is also important to understand how we will pay for the project. We are going to use long-term debt to pay for the majority of the costs to replace the windows and cladding. To me, this is a prudent decision because the City carries exceptionally low debt and we are still in a very favourable environment for interest rates. Furthermore, an annual stream of funding has already been identified within the 2017 budget to finance the loan. This project is not increasing the budget or increasing your taxes.
The City is required by the province to have an asset management plan. The plan guides how the City makes needed repairs and upgrades to its buildings and facilities over a 25-year horizon. There is an annual allocation within the budget (approximately $2.3 million) that funds the asset management plan. This is money that is used to make repairs, improvements, and replace equipment. A portion of this annual amount will be used to finance the loan.
The point I want to stress is this: if we did not have to replace the windows and cladding at the Civic Centre, the money in the budget that is going to finance the loan would be used for other projects and other repairs to City facilities, because that is its dedicated purpose. We would not have any additional money to lower property taxes or to provide extra services.
I know we are still in the midst of a difficult economic climate, so I understand some of the outcry about what the City’s “priorities” should be. However, to that I will say this: taking care of the things we own as a City has to be a priority too. Because I think experience has taught us by now that we don’t gain much by stalling decisions for another day. The options generally boil down to paying today or paying more in the future—and often suffering problems in between when we decide to kick things down the road.
Throughout this Council term, we’ve been looking for opportunities to divest the City of old buildings and property to thereby lower our asset management costs. Our recent decision with respect to the Steelton Seniors Centre is a good example. By relocating the Steelton Seniors Centre (from an old, inaccessible building) to the fully-accessible Northern Community Centre, we have helped the City forego more than a million dollars in future renovation costs.
However, I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that our municipal government could function without a City Hall, so it is important that we commit enough funds to make sure the one we have stays in reasonably good working order. The building is, after all, a reflection of our community and as such we can’t let it fall into disrepair.
Lastly, I appreciate that some people are disappointed by the proposed change in the building’s look. We have to keep in mind that over 40 years have elapsed since the cladding and windows were first installed. Materials and technology changes and in this respect, Council has to defer to the architectural and engineering experts. In the end, I am confident that we will have a visually appealing and modern looking building that will continue to be one of our city’s distinctive landmarks.