Hefty price tag delays dream of Callander municipal office

A vision of the future was set before Callander at the last council meeting. It detailed a plan to merge the main municipal offices—public works, the fire department, and town hall—onto a new single site on Callander Bay Road with space for all in a new building fully compliant with all current health and safety regulations.

Alas, the hefty price of $15.6 million brought council back to reality. The new building as presented will not be built any time soon. Most likely, it will never be built. However, there is hope, as staff plan to investigate possible grant opportunities. Currently, council has not decided which way to go, it has only received the report for consideration.

It was a grant that paid for this study as well. The province provided Callander a modernization grant with some of that money earmarked for the report on the buildings. North Bay firm Mitchell Jensen Architects put the report together, complete with artistic renderings of the new building, drawings of the project, and cost estimates.

The firm also provided options for renovating current buildings or adding small additions to existing properties. In total, the 28,700 square foot project would cost $15.6 million, considerably higher from when the municipality priced out the building in 2012.

Just over a decade ago, a similar study was presented to council and the cost came in at $7.1 million, albeit the building was about 8,000 square feet less. The council of the day couldn’t afford the expense at that time either, so the plans remain on paper.

However, the project plans do provide an accurate figure of current constructions costs, which helps municipal staff when applying for outside grants that could get the building off the ground. Plus, there are some issues with the buildings the municipality wants to remedy, just not for $15.6 million.

The fire hall lacks adequate parking and storage facilities and overall, there isn’t enough room. Currently, the building is 3,535 square feet, but the recommendation is to bring that to 8,000 square feet. Expansion on the current site is not a viable option, so the only way to gain that square footage is to move it.

It’s also recommended that town hall increases in size by at least 1,000 square feet to accommodate those working there. Currently, some staff work in council chambers and some work off site. The reception area needs improving, as do the washrooms, and the building has accessibility issues.

The town hall is next to the fire hall, so if the fire hall were to move, expansion could be possible, but the ideal would be to have one building and have all municipal staff under one roof, including operations staff, a.k.a, the municipal works department.

Currently municipal works has a garage, a Quonset hut, and a trailer. All of which are just under 10,000 square feet, but the recommendation is to boost this to just under 13,000 and add some administrative offices as well.

The garage is aging, “beyond useful lifespan” the report noted, and the heating and garage bay sizes are “insufficient” and “inadequate.” The trailer used as an office isn’t doing well either—“beyond useful lifespan,” the report outlined—and there are accessibility issues with the buildings as well. Expanding is not really an option as the site size won’t allow for it.

Since all three could use a significant remodel, the goal was to place all three in one central location and cut costs by building everything at once. Everything would be accessible and up to all codes, and operating costs would likely decrease given the efficiency of a new building.

That was the dream in 2012, and that remains the dream today. However, the dream will remain just that unless staff can secure some major grants to put toward the project, or council decides to start saving. The dream is not dead, it’s just on the backburner once again.

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca