Presented By Bonnie Stephens, Cayuga
In November of 2015, Haldimand county staff presented council with a report outlining four options for accommodating the county’s administrative functions over the next 20 years.
One option was to retain the status quo and a second was to alter the status quo by incorporating some of the county’s satellite offices into the main building. The third and fourth options would each bring all administrative functions into a main building, one located at the current site on the court house grounds and the other at a new location on the Cayuga arena site.
For the new build at the Cayuga arena site, staff hired an architect to suggest the best way to create the needed space, but for revamping the current county administration building (CAB), staff themselves made up a drawing even though there was no architect on staff. Wouldn’t you expect council to have noticed this irregularity and wondered what a fair and equal comparison using drawings from a professional architect for both sites would have looked like?
Haldimand county CAO Don Boyle answered this question at the August 22, 2017 council meeting in response to a delegation when he said, “. . . they knew the court house grounds wouldn’t work, so they didn’t waste money on it.”
So now the question becomes, if staff and council truly believed that adding space to the existing CAB would not work, then why did they present it to the public, complete with homemade drawings, as the only centralized alternative to a new build at the arena? Presenting citizens with one possibility at a predetermined location selected from 26 potential locations, and a single, flawed alternative choice that they knew wouldn’t work meant that a decision had been made before there had been any opportunity for public input.
Many pages in the Administration Accommodation Review have been dedicated to analyzing public input and include pie charts and graphs.
But all the public input analyzed was based on the original faulty premise that there were actually two choices for a centralized county administration building, and as impressive as the pie charts and graphs appear to be, a closer look reveals that this data was based on measurable responses from 212 people out of a population of 45,608.
How could staff and council have considered this to be sufficient public engagement to determine the citizens’ wishes regarding a major, multi-million dollar project that would drastically alter the historical face of Haldimand county?
The 2015 staff report ranked revamping the current CAB as the most expensive option at $23,152,000, while a new build at the arena site was estimated to cost $22,556,000 after proceeds from selling the current CAB lands had been deducted.
On December 12, 2016, however, council changed its mind about selling the CAB and museum lands, so the cost of the new build became $22,556,000 plus the revenue that selling the CAB lands would have generated. Assuming the court house grounds were worth more than $600,000, the new build had become the most expensive choice of all, but by how much?
Even after many requests, staff and council refused to answer straightforward, simple questions about estimated costs, such as “. . . was any revenue assumed from the sale of the Haldimand County Museum & Archives lands?” I was told that determining this information would be a daunting task given the enormity of the computations, but that I could meet with them and they would explain the concept to me.
Then at the council meeting on August 22, 2017 CAO Don Boyle answered one of my questions when he stated, “. . . part of the costing was a one time $500,000. for the removal of this building [the current CAB] and the rehabilitation of the grounds here.” Clearly staff could have supplied answers. Citizens cannot be informed or engaged if information is denied them.
Reports of the cost of a new county administration building at the arena site have fluctuated wildly. For example, in June of 2017 Leroy Bartlett told the Simcoe Reformer that the new CAB would cost $15 million, but in August 2017 The Haldimand Press reported that it would cost $20.9 million.
The 2017 staff report on the new building set the base cost at $19,500,000. plus add-ons, and including the IT cost increased later, the total became $24,400.000. Interest on the money borrowed to pay for this will be over $8,500,000 for a total of $32,900,000 plus other costs identified in the report but still to be determined.
This amount of money is substantial for Haldimand taxpayers.
Let’s consider the less expensive and never professionally explored revamping of the current CAB on the court house grounds.
Cayuga is the county seat and our current administration building shares a prestigious site beside the historic court house. Provincial offences exchanges are convenient and efficient.
On December 1, 2016 both councillor Morison and Mayor Hewitt were made aware that a well qualified structural engineer and building scientist had observed that one or possibly two storeys could be added to the current CAB without reinforcing the foundation, but reinforcing could be done if needed.
When council was questioned about this in August, 2017, CAO Don Boyle stated that staff had considered adding a second storey to the current CAB and it wouldn’t work, but there is no record of this claim in any county document.
He also stated that, “. . . we needed an extra 110 parking spots which would have taken the green space around this facility,” but there is no justification in the zoning bylaw for this inflated number. In truth there are a number of possible solutions for creating adequate parking on the Court House Grounds site while minimizing the loss of green space and trees.
Examples of other erroneous reasons for why the revamp wouldn’t work were: the expense to replace the HVAC system, an accessibility issue, parking, cost, and building at the end of its useful life. A professional architect could have resolved these issues that Haldimand staff could not.
Council must have realized that the cost of a new build was becoming by far the most expensive option and they should have directed staff to rethink the project.
A professional architectural plan for a revamp of the more affordable current CAB might have shown that this well built, solid building would be the better choice, and that the building should not be torn down. But they chose not to. Instead, on January 20, 2017 the county signed a contract in the amount of $800,605. for architectural and engineering consulting services for the new build at the arena site, exactly as if the project still made financial and political sense.
Finally, at the August 21, 2017 council meeting, Haldimand county citizens were presented with a final version of the archictect’s design for the new county administration building without ever having an opportunity to see or discuss any concept drawings.
Mayor Hewitt stated that, ” . . . I am confident that when we open the doors to this new building, you will agree with me . . . . ” How could he know?
The result of staff and council blindly rushing this project along while ignoring concerns voiced by citizens, is that the county will have lost the important, appropriate, and historical significance of their administration building sharing the stately Court House Grounds. Instead citizens will have an expensive, starkly modernish new CAB crammed sideways beside a large industrial style arena, away from the court house.
Locating the new CAB on the arena site eliminates the future possibility of complementing the arena with other conveniently placed sports facilities, which would have made sense. Councillor Morison’s notion that land might be taken from the elementary school playground for this purpose does not make sense and has not met with a positive response from the school board.
Council and staff have proven their reluctance to answer questions from citizens and to supply requested information. Citizens are often surprised and shocked to learn of decisions made by this council, and when they make their concerns known, council ignores them.
Clearly, this council lacks transparency, accountability, and a desire to hear and respect the wishes of the people they represent. Haldimand county citizens are burdened with a rogue council and we must vote them all out.