Hopes to build
Town council voted 5-2 against the contract to build the $4.7-million Fort Frances Public Library and Technology Centre on Monday night, with the majority of council agreeing the project is beyond this year’s budget.
But Mayor Roy Avis said in an interview after Monday’s meeting that he’s hopeful the town can figure out a way build a new one in the near future at a more manageable cost.
“I don’t think the vote was to derail a project or put it on the shelf,” he stressed. “The vote was to basically say, ‘We cannot afford that size of project at this particular time.’
“I hope we can regroup and come back with a reasonable sized facility that we can operate on budget.
“I am hoping it comes back this year, I am hoping within the next two months,” Mayor Avis noted. “We’ll strike a committee tomorrow, we’ll work with somebody tomorrow to try and get a direction and get it completed, and we need their help.
“This municipality has less than $2 million in reserves, we’ve got road infrastructure that’s falling apart, sewer and water that’s indebting us, but maybe we could scrape together $750,000 and get a reasonable project put together.”
Council voted on a recommendation from the Fort Frances Public Library board to enter into a contact with Aurora Construction, in the amount of $3,733,219, to proceed with construction of the new library and technology centre according to the plans and specifications prepared by Chamberlain Architects.
The total project cost, including professional fees, furniture, and equipment, is $4.739 million.
According to the project budget submitted to council last week by the library board, the municipal share of the cost was estimated to be about $1.3 million—$240,000 from a dedicated reserve, $50,000 in in-kind services, and $1.09 million in long-term debt.
The balance would be paid for mainly through a $1.6 million grant from the Ministry of Culture, a $439,500 grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., and private and corporate donations/pledges in the amount of $850,000, with the balance paid with proceeds from the sale of the old library and an anticipated FedNor grant.
Couns. Andrew Hallikas and Sharon Tibbs voted in favour of going ahead with the project while Mayor Avis and Couns. John Albanese, Ken Perry, Paul Ryan, and Rick Wiedenhoeft said nay.
“I think the funding is there for the library, and I think over time, the funding will come in . . . I am really hoping council will, in my opinion, do the right thing and okay this project,” Coun. Hallikas had said prior to Monday night’s vote.
Coun. Tibbs said she had only one question of the library project budget—why did it only include a five percent contingency allotment as opposed to the more common 15 percent—and that since last week’s budget meeting that was answered by project manager Brian Avis.
The answer was that the library would be a new building and not an addition to an existing one, like the Ice for Kids Arena was, for example.
She added that Brian Avis said he was confident the library’s design and contractor would result in a “quality product.”
But Coun. Tibbs said she did have concerns about the operating costs of a future facility.
“I am concerned about what happens after [it is built],” she remarked. “We have to be cognisant as far as the running of it being done with great care.
“I will be, if I can be here at the table, holding your feet to the fire to make sure that happens,” she told the library building committee.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft said he has been a “strong proponent of the need for a new library,” and will continue to be into the future.
“Even if this resolution is defeated tonight, it is not the defeat of a new library,” he stressed. “It is only the defeat of the project at $4.739 million.
“I know many might disagree with me there, but that’s the way I feel.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft said he spent the last week talking to as many taxpayers as possible to get feedback, and found all but four were in favour of a new library. But most people he talked to also expressed concern about the recession and current uncertainty of the local economy.
“I certainly took that to heart,’ he remarked.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft recalled that last year, he had mentioned that the town should perhaps match the fundraising efforts of the “Building for the Future” campaign, which currently exceed $850,000 in pledges, and perhaps this could still happen.
But he feared that, as the current plans stand, the town’s share will be far beyond that.
“My concern is the potential expenditure of this project could be as high as $1.5-$1.6 million, somewhere in that range, if things don’t fall into place,” he warned. “And I think when you look at a project this size, that you have to look at the potential expenditure as being a possibility.
“So, yes, I definitely want the project to go forward. I will continue to work for the project to go forward,” he vowed. “If it means serving on committees, I will do that.
“I am just a little hesitant at spending $1.5-$1.6 million at this point in time.”
Coun. Perry echoed that he is not against a new library, as some people may believe, but feels the town can’t afford the project as it stands right now.
“I think that the plan for the library we have is too grand of a scheme for us,” he remarked. “I’m afraid that down the road, not very far down the road, we’re not going to be able to afford the budget of a new library.
“Famously, when you build a bigger building, the budget for the new building is bigger than the old budget, and that’s what’s going to happen here,” he added.
“If we are going to go forward with this project, I think we need to take another look at it, and scale it back to a size we can afford now and into the future.”
“I have always been for a new library,” Mayor Avis said during the meeting, adding that at this time, he has serious concerns about future operating costs, as well as the possibility that the town’s portion would end up being much higher than estimated due to any number of possible factors ranging from whether or not the old library is sold, whether or not a $170,000 grant from FedNor will come through, and the cost of paving the new library’s parking lot.
(The last item had been trimmed out of the most recent proposed library budget, but several councillors said should be put back in so the parking lot would comply with the town’s own property standards).
He added that, in his opinion, the purpose of putting the project out to tender was to find out what it was going to cost and whether it would fit into the town’s budget, and currently it costs more than the town can afford.
“I think we have to build within our means,” concluded Mayor Avis.
See video on Monday’s library vote at www.fortfrances.tv