Contractor chosen for art gallery

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — After a competitive, national pre-qualification and procurement process, the Tom Jones Corporation has been chosen to construct the new home of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery on the city’s waterfront with work expected to begin in February.

Gallery director Sharon Godwin is stepping away from the director’s job, which she has held for 42 years, to make way for the board to hire a new director who can transition to the new building. Godwin will shift her hat to the gallery’s waterfront project lead and says there is much work ahead of her.

“I’m not retiring,” she said. “I’m going to stay on to work with the team on getting the building done. There’s a ton of work involved, especially from the financial piece of it; claiming all the money, getting more grants, doing some more fundraising, and other things that have to be done in the building where decisions need to be made.”

Godwin spoke of the journey and the setbacks that the gallery underwent to reach the point of construction for the project, which started in 2009 and now has a new planned opening date in 2025.

“We ran into all kinds of things,” she said. “Our major stumbling block was the environmental investigations and assessment that we had to do on the site because it is a brownfield site.”

She explained that a brownfield site means the site had industrial usage and residual contamination. In reclaiming the site, there are ways to mitigate the area to make sure it’s safe for the public. The process took a few years and she said that was unexpected.

“Then the COVID pandemic hit,” she said, adding that changed the dynamic of the budget and the building schedule.

“We lived through a number of elections. Every time we have an application and then an election is called, everything goes back to square one.”

Godwin says they are staring down a little more than two years of construction and are very aware of supply chain issues, the prices of labour and building materials.

The price tag for the new gallery is now $38 million, much of which has been provided through the Infrastructure Canada Green and Inclusive Community Buildings program. This portion of the fund enables the structure to be built to zero carbon standards that will align with the City of Thunder Bay’s net zero strategy.

“The original budget many years ago was more like $33 million. Our construction budget itself is now $38 million, and that is because of all the escalations over all the years,” Godwin explained. “The other costs that are involved are all the architect’s fees, the project manager, the environmental engineers and then we have furniture, fixtures and equipment expenses. It took time to find the money and we don’t completely have it all yet, but we have most of the government funding.”

The $5.7 million (11 per cent) initial investment from the City of Thunder Bay has levered commitments of over $40 million from the federal (70 per cent) and provincial governments (11 per cent). An additional $2.5 million has already been committed by local individuals, families, businesses, and foundations.

Parker Jones, president of Tom Jones Corporation, called this a “large project” for Thunder Bay.

“There’s a lot of commitments, federal and provincial dollars thrown at this and we want to see it spent here and we’re going to work closely with the art gallery to get this one across the finish line,” Jones said. “We are very excited and we’re very honoured that we were selected and it’s pretty exciting to have a local firm involved in this.”

The new gallery boasts an area that is double the size of the current gallery, which has been located on the campus of Confederation College for the last 46 years. The features include increased education and programming areas, expansive exhibition spaces, a larger gift shop, a cafe with an outdoor terrace and spaces for community use, and a larger collections storage vault that will be incorporated to accommodate the gallery’s growing collection of Indigenous and Northwestern Ontario art.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal