By Mike Anderson

The Town of Georgina will build a new Civic Centre on Civic Centre Rd.

On March 1, Town Council voted 6-1 to green-light the $50 million project, which includes the demolition of the existing Civic Centre.

Council had agreed to delay the vote for over a month on January 24, allowing for more public input and internal discussion.

However, it appears that public input – mainly calling for more public consultation – was largely ignored.

Council also declined to revisit an earlier proposal for a scaled-down version, which would have cost $25.7 million.

The Town considered the footprint too small to meet current or future needs, with a capacity for 51 staff, including six offices.

“It’s never popular to build a civic centre,” said Mayor Margaret Quirk before the vote.

“It’s $50 million with the building and associated costs. And it’s never popular to put that amount on the table for residents. And truly, if it weren’t for the solid financial plan, I’d be worried.”

“It’s not easy to make this kind of decision, but we get paid to make the hard decisions.”

Design concept presented at 2019 public meeting

According to the staff report, the new 44,600-square-foot building will be funded through property taxes – a two per cent infrastructure levy in 2023 and 2024 – and borrowing from existing capital reserves, as the Town wants to avoid taking out a loan — which would mean $42 million in interest charges over 30 years.

The current Civic Centre is 65 years old. Initially constructed in 1958 by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer as a Novitiate, a building that houses religious novices, it was named “St. Gerard’s Novitiate.”

Over the years, there have been extensive renovations completed. Still, concerns persist over the presence of asbestos, a lack of accessibility – it does not comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) — and poor air quality, the building doesn’t have a modern HVAC system.

The new building will be built south of the roundabout and provide space for approximately 125 staff, with 22 shareable office spaces, plus offices for the Mayor, CAO and DCAO, and up to 10 small collaboration/meeting rooms.

It will also be designed with a focus on energy efficiency and sustainability. However, the LEED Gold standard, proposed initially, may be dropped.

The Town plans to tender the project in 2023. Bids are anticipated this year or early next year, with completion slated for mid to late 2025.

Ward 4 Councillor Dale Genge cast the sole opposing vote.

Genge submitted a 17-page report that argued that the current Civic Centre could be renovated for $27 million, saving a potential $23 million — that was later reduced to $8 million.

“If we can save $8 million, it’s not worth going to a new building,” Genge said.

“So, I won’t be supporting going to the new building.”

However, Town staff disputed many of the cost savings outlined in her report.

They also identified additional costs, such as moving costs and the cost of leasing temporary space for staff while the building was being renovated.

Regional Councillor Naomi Davison was firmly opposed to renovating the existing building.

“I absolutely can’t support putting tens of millions of tax dollars into an old building that isn’t appropriate for our intended use,” she said.

Ward 3 Councillor Dave Neeson and Ward 5 Councillor Lee Dale also strongly opposed Genge’s position.

“I don’t support a renovation; It carries extreme risk,” Neeson said.

“Do we want to throw good money after bad? The building is way past its life expectancy.”

Dale concurred, citing concerns over additional costs, like asbestos and vermiculite abatement.

“Renovating the existing building could surpass the cost of a new building or come very close,” he said.

“Putting good money into a bad building is not being fiscally responsible.”

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