Shortly after passing a resolution not to commit more town dollars to the auditorium project at Westfort, Fort Frances council made a “friendly amendment” to kick in another $300,000 to bring its maximum financial commitment up to $1.8 million.
But with that, the auditorium will house only 434 seats, not the 500 the auditorium committee had pledged another $70,000 to see built.
And despite the reduction, the committee still will have to come up with another $200,000—on top of its present $570,000 commitment—to help cover the $2.5 million estimated cost of the total project.
That decision came after two hours of deliberating at a special council meeting Monday night, when councillors expressed concerns the auditorium committee had not been able to cut costs on the project.
And originally, council voted not to up its financial commitment for the 500-seat auditorium the committee had been lobbying for.
“I’m disappointed that there was no compromised position," Coun. George Blanc said. "There seemed to be total inflexibility as far as seating.”
“I just can’t see going back to the taxpayers for a 25 percent boost in what we’ve committed,” echoed Coun. Bill Martin, with Mayor Glenn Witherspoon adding the committee should have asked the town to commit more funding right from the start.
But Connie Cuthbertson and John Dutton, both at the meeting to represent the auditorium committee, stressed the design was already bare-bones. And Dutton assured the committee had reduced its theatre equipment expenses to $175,000 (down from some $400,000) to give them what they would need to stage performances.
Coun. Bruce Armstrong—the lone councillor in favour of upping the town’s dollar commitment to the project at 500 seats—argued it was as though council was blaming the auditorium committee for the unexpected costs.
“I’m disappointed. I can’t believe that we’re scolding these people," he fumed. "They didn’t create these costs.”
It wasn’t until Community Services manager George Bell asked for direction on which design construction crews were to start driving piles for the next day—500 seats or for the original 434—that council reconsidered its first resolution.
“They’re ready to drive for the original design," he explained. "There will be a delay for 500.”
“It’ll not be [an auditorium] as this resolution stands. It’ll be a big building,” Dutton added, warning they would still be $100,000 short.
But Bell said the architects had indicated to him since the town came on board in the spring that the project would run over what was budgeted.
“If you knew this, you never waved any red flags to this group,” Coun. Blanc noted.
Bell explained that was discussed at the executive committee level, and it wasn’t brought to council’s attention because architects felt they might be able to find other ways of bringing the costs down, such as changing the roof structure.
“The budget now is Daoust’s budget. They get paid to bring it in on budget,” Bell assured.
With that assurance, council decided to help offset the additional costs associated with the 434-seat design—but left equipping the auditorium in the hands of the committee.
Mayor Witherspoon also stressed he would lobby senior levels of government for funding.
While it wasn’t the design they hoped for, Dutton was confident the town’s additional funding commitment would give the community a functional auditorium.
“I thought we’d lost it totally,” he sighed.
In related news, council sent a $199,000 bill it received from the local public school board to the town’s Administration and Finance executive committee for review and recommendation.