County council decides to “pause” build of Grey Gables long-term care while questions swirl

·8 min read

Grey County met in special session recently and chose to pause the planned re-build of Grey Gables.

The committee of the whole meeting saw the motion by an Owen Sound councillor approved. It will now head back to a County Council session for final adoption.

Southgate’s Mayor John Woodbury and Deputy-Mayor Deputy-Mayor Brian Milne supported putting the Grey Gables project on hold.

At Southgate Council last week, Mayor Woodbury commented on the issue “which has stirred up a few people.”

“It was a financial decision,” he said. “I think that was a wise move, a financially-wise move.”

Deputy-Mayor Milne rejected “chatter” of those who have said that the decision pointed to the County moving again to close the facility. “That’s absolutely not true,” he said.

Mayor Woodbury agreed, saying there was “a lot of determination” on County Council to keep Grey Gables open.

The road has been rocky to the renewal of county care homes outside Owen Sound.

First, a consultant’s report about five years ago recommended working on both homes, a direction which county council set aside to endorse closing the 66-bed Grey Gables as a county home and expanding Rockwood Terrace.

The Rockwood Terrace building replacement is needed before 2025 in order to upgrade to required standards. It is a complete new build.

Grey Gables was saved from the planned closure after public rallies, intervention from former wardens and a municipal election in which many lost their seats who had voted to close Grey Gables.

A price estimate of $400,000, more than 40 percent over previous estimates led to the renewed questions about the future of the Markdale county long-term care home.

And while the COW vote to “pause” was a bit more ambiguous, area residents still took to social media to voice their fears additional beds that had been approved by the province might be lost.

County CAO Kim Wingrove said on that the project manager at the ministry of Long Term Care said they could discuss extending the completion date to the re-build.

Switching to a proposal for an addition at Grey Gables rather than a new build is possible, she said, but would mean a whole new application and approval process.

Deputy-Warden Paul McQueen said he would want assurance in writing that the beds would still be there if the county waits before building. He said that he spoke to MPP Bill Walker and heard back that there would be no guarantees.

Although the county council vote which saved Grey Gables did not foresee a new re-build in Markdale, that was the application that council eventually approved to be submitted.

The two new 128-bed builds in Durham and Markdale were approved by the Ministry at the same time, and a single firm hired to manage the builds.

That included looking for efficiencies from doing the projects at the same time, which would mainly be in the design not the construction stage, Mr. Rodrigues said.

The estimate presented by Colliers Aug. 26 of $370,000 to $400,000 or more per bed. That is full project costs, including more than construction. Square footage of homes with the same number of beds can vary widely, Colliers said.

The budget includes escalation up to the time of tender expected at the end of next year, as well as contingency.

When vote time came Aug. 26 on the motion to pause, Grey Highlands Deputy-Mayor Aakash Desai voted in favour.

Coun. Desai said that his concern was not the next election, but how incurring the debt load would impact county spending and the next generation.

Council was presented with numbers showing how going forward would limit the amount of further debt the county could incur for infrastructure.

Deputy-Warden Paul McQueen and the West Grey Mayor and Deputy-Mayor were among those opposed the motion.

One councillor made the point that with the amount of population growth expected in the south east of the county, especially Southgate, on top of the overall greying of the population there was no doubt the beds were needed.

County Coun. Tom Hutchinson asked for the impact in a more practical form of the increase in levy per household per year.

In answer, total levy impacts at an assumed interest rate were stated, along with the number of households.

Darrin Patey, who was prominent in the fight to Save Grey Gables, said on Facebook that he’s left wondering if the next step will be to bring back the idea of ditching a county-owned facility in Markdale.

Questions posed by members of the “Save Grey Gables Again” Facebook group were plentiful as members looked for reasons for the vote, asking:

- how is the $400,000 per bed estimate justified?

- since beds are needed, why “pause” while costs continue to rise and when interest rates are low?

- why was a complete new build of Grey Gables applied for in the first place and can that plan be switched?

- if it is a complete new build, why is there no revenue projected from re-sale and re-purposing of the existing building?

The thrust of the last battle, which united people in Durham and Grey Highlands was to “Save Grey Gables.”

Darrin Patey, moderator of the page, now re-named Save Grey Gables Again, said that Grey County taxpayers were not asking for a relatively new building to be abandoned and replaced with a totally new build. He put the responsibility on county staff. “We, the people, never once asked for a new build.”

At County Council, the $400,000 per bed figures was questioned by several members.

Coun. Soever said that the development charges would not be charged, which could lower the cost per bed by $50,000. County Councillor Aakash Desai asked about the DCs and was told that the project is exempt from the charges.

If Grey Gables doesn’t go ahead now, the cost would likely be higher later, the consultant said, in answer to a question from Coun. Scott Mackey.

Coun. Soever also pointed out that the County owns the land, which could be worth $10k to $30k per bed in the price, he suggested.

“I’m a little concerned that maybe we’re looking at the most pessimistic view of this, and that this cash flow model is designed to discourage council members from proceeding with Grey Gables.”

He also asked if Mr. Rodrigues was familiar with the valuation for the existing long-term facility, for which the highest and best use would be as an assisted care home – for which it has earlier been valued at $3.9 million.

The CAO said she didn’t think that was a significant part of Colliers valuation or budget discussion, and she had not presented it to the firm.

Coun. Soever says the impact of that value is real in offsetting the debt. Campus of Care is how you make money, on the senior residential side, and dismissing that doesn’t mean doing the best job for taxpayers, he said.

Warden Selwyn Hicks called Mr. Soever’s suggestion that figures were prepared to discourage the project a “pretty serious allegation” and asked Mr. Rodrigues to comment.

The Colliers rep said that he had seen projects with donated land before. At $400k per bed, there are still choices to be made about where the county will invest.

“In no means is $400,000 going to be the most pessimistic case to afford the biggest long term care redevelopment or home that’s out there,” Mr. Rodrigues said.

He said he was asked to give county council more context that day about why the figure was reasonable, and that was his goal. He also added that in the range of projects supporting his estimate, there were some without DC s and some which do not have a large land value.

If one project does not go ahead, CAO Kim Wingrove, said the pricing for the contract with Colliers could be discussed, as it was clearly two projects. Coun. Soevers said it was approved as a total amount of $899,000.

Questioning the estimates, Deputy-Warden McQueen cited that $180,000 per bed was given as a benchmark from Sienna in 2016.

He referred to the Southbridge project in Owen Sound by Graham in Owen Sound. The contractor told him in conversation recently that the company’s cost for that project is $175,000 per bed, the Deputy-Warden said, although he added that he would have to increase that today another 15 to 20 percent. It was a design-build project.

Deputy-Mayor McQueen asked the consultant how that was possible.

CAO Kim Wingrove jumped in to say that for a meaningful comparison a detailed budget would be needed.

Mr. Rodrigues mentioned different factors to explain the difference. One of thes is increased costs from when the Owen Sound project was tendered to when the Grey County builds are expected.

Another is size of building – whether it just meets the directives of the Ministry when it comes to size or providing something larger. Contingency is also part of the $400,000 estimate. Mr. Rodrigues said that the location (rural vs. urban) is taken into account.

Coun. Shirley Keaveney said a LTC build going on in Meaford now has a cost of $195,000 per bed, though that is not all-inclusive.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald

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