City Council Preview – What’s on the Agenda for the September 16 Meeting?

This special meeting of City Council will focus on the Baker District Redevelopment, which includes the new branch of the Guelph Public Library. Back in July, a staff report suggested that they need to cut millions of dollars from the budget for this project, and that it was already going over budget. So what does the situation looking like now two-months later?

Note: If you want to register as a delegate for any of these items on the Committee agenda, then you have to get in touch with the City Clerk’s office by 10 am on Friday September 13.

Baker District Redevelopment: Update and Public Component Construction Costs – Council  will be asked to voted on a two-part recommendation. The first part concerns multiple new directions for the capital budget including $15 million for site remediation, site servicing, and archaeological works; $2.6 million for urban square and streetscaping; $21 million for parking plus a review of the financial impact on the Parking Master Plan Financial Model; and, a maximum cost of $67.1 million to build the library.

The second part of the recommendation directs staff, along with the Library and other partners to apply to the Investment in Canada Infrastructure Program – Community, Culture and Recreation Stream (ICIP:CCRS) for the main library, urban square and streetscape components in order to off-set costs. The Government of Ontario opened the stream for these applications earlier this week.

So that’s what staff is asking for, how did we get there?

The original business case of the new main branch of the library had a budget of $46.25 million for an 88,000 square-foot facility. Since construction was not expected to begin until 2021, the price tag for the library, with inflation, went up to just over $50 million. Back in July, in the immediate wake of the passing of Bill 108, staff was suggesting a $12 million budget cut by shaving off about 23,000 square feet off the library plan.

Now, staff suggest a hard stop, maximum budget of $67.1 million for a 93,000 square-foot facility, so the size of the library has gone up (as has the price tag), but it’s not because the City got generous. Staff says the extra 5,000 square feet is because of the way that the library fits into the overall architecture of the proposed building. The staff report also recommends that the design team and library staff need to focus less on square footage, and more on working within the new budget.

The staff report also notes that they considered an option where the City would spend $67.1 million with a maximum size of the library tapping out at 74,000 square feet.

Speaking of funding, the City will be taking on $43.6 million in debt to help fund the project, with the rest of the revenue coming from development charges, proceeds from the sale of assets, property taxes, and parking revenues. Of course, there’s still no certainty about what limits and caps may be on development charges, which, thanks to Bill 108, is now the “Community Charges Benefit”, which is the new program cities can use to fund projects like libraries, parks, and other cultural centres.

This plan, according to the staff report, is based on the assumption that all debt and costing estimates are recoverable from DC, or CCB, revenue. Council may have to revisit the funding for this project again.

Also, in addition to the capital costs, there will be new, ongoing operating costs when the new main library opens. Staff is estimating that the annual operating costs will be between $2.9 and $3.5 million, with another $1.3 and $1.6 million in capital replacements and annual renewal. It means a projected tax levy increase of between 1.7 and 2.1 per cent.

The other controversial part of the project is the proposed parking capacity. Originally, 500 spaces were earmarked for the development, but land surveys of Baker Street revealed a think layer of bedrock just over one-story underneath the land that would be cost prohibitive to dig through. The new plan will see the City build and install 280 new spaces, but there’s kind of a question mark beside that number.

“Although the quantity has not been finalized, it is important to note that the private parking spots as part of the residential unit construction will be in addition to the City-owned parking spots,” the report reads.

So basically, the 280 new spots are public spaces, and the spaces reserved for use of the residents of the new development will be in addition to the 280 figure. As it currently stands, there are about 240 spaces in the present at the Baker Street parking lot, so the new parking demands will not be adding a lot of new capacity.

The price tag for the project now stands at $125 million, including $19 million so far spent on activities like environmental assessments, remediation work, archaeological explorations, demolition, and property acquisition.

The intention now is for the developer Windmill and the City to agree on the finished design of the development in the next 12 months.

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