Should Sechelt Municipal Hall’s tower be torn down?

Sechelt council has started deliberations on whether or not to keep its municipal hall tower.

During its Feb. 28 committee of the whole, council was presented with three options for the future of the municipal hall and library building and was asked to decide how best to direct staff.

Julie Maerz, Sechelt engineering project manager, explained that when she began her role at the district in 2022, it was brought to her attention that there were many leaks and issues in the building related to water damage.

The district hired a building envelope engineer in 2022 to do an assessment on the building, which showed that small fixes could not keep the building going, and that a full remediation plan was required.

The tower was originally open for residents and visitors to enjoy a 360° view of Sechelt, explained Lindsay Vickers, Sechelt manager of communications in an email. Now the district lights it in different colours, often representing a group or organisation’s special event. She also clarified that its architectural design is meant to mimic a lighthouse, aligning with Sechelt’s nautical theme.

Eventually, the tower was closed to the public due to the water leaks and damage that was beginning to materialise.

Tony Osborn, principal architect and owner of Tony Osborn Architecture and Design (TOAD), presented three options and highlighted the pros and cons of each design.

He said that it was decided that the northeast corner, where the tower is, will be the first section of the building to be renovated.

Option one is the shortest-term, and would be the minimum mandatory requirement to upgrade the building. In this option, the architecture of the tower would remain the same, but "envelope elements" of the building would be fully replaced, such as windows, cladding, wall assembly with rainscreen, and roof, and has an estimated cost of $600,000 – which is already included in this year's budget.

William Tran, project engineer at SR engineering Ltd, said that this option would deconstruct the tower down to its studs and framing, and see the exterior components replaced with new systems to meet modern-day practices.

Option two is considered medium-term, and would involve the removal of the tower and the construction of an entirely new wing on the footprint of the removed tower. This option would also allow for further expansion of the building from the new wing and has an estimated cost of $1.8 million.

Osborn said the architectural intent for this option was to create more transparency from inside to outside, noting the large glass windows that would be at the entrance.

Option two comes with some complications, Osborn said. The electrical room would need to be relocated, and will need its own new entrance dedicated to BC Hydro use, “which does tip the scales a bit to make this rather high-value construction project for the amount of square footage gained,” he said.

Osborn also said that they would need to remove one of the two exit staircases when construction begins and that if the library is to remain open during construction a temporary exit staircase would be needed.

The third option, the long-term strategy, would be the addition of a “significant extension” of the building along its north face. This option would retain the tower as well as add a large amount of space to the municipal hall and library, to meet future needs. This option comes with an estimated price tag of $8.25 million

Osborn said one of the focuses of this option is to create the most energy-efficient building possible, saying that the half-circle shape of the building with the flat side facing south allows for an abundance of natural light.

This design would feature solar shading and natural ventilation to control conditions in the building, would have a civic courtyard at the entrance and would have a green courtyard in the back to act as what Osborn calls “the lungs for the building.”

Option three would create a glass wall that would allow citizens to watch Sechelt meetings from the outside to allow for what Osborn called “transparency to democracy.”

Library director Leianne Emery spoke to the proposed options and how they would affect the library. She said that the library would not recommend option one, saying that they don't see “a huge benefit” from the tower to the community outside of aesthetics.

Highlighting the library’s dire need for additional staff space, Emery said that option two looked interesting.

She added that they are not against option three, so long as it equally benefits the library from both a staff perspective and the public-facing side.

Coun. Darren Inkster spoke in favour of option three, saying it “pushed a lot of his buttons” (in a good way) and that if council goes forward with a larger building, they could give the current council chambers back to the library.

Coun. Brenda Rowe said that Sechelt needs to be building for its future, and added that she is not interested in investing money in a project that doesn’t expand the library’s footprint, adding that Sechelt does not have “a true community centre,” and that a lot of their functions have fallen to the library.

Rowe also recommended staff consider the implications of adding a daycare to the new building.

Coun. Dianne McLauchlan noted that the area where the building is located is at risk of sea level rise, saying she would not recommend constructing new buildings in the area, highlighting the importance of “getting the most out of the buildings that we have.”

Coun. Alton Toth spoke against option three. “I really struggle with the mismatch of architecture design between the existing building and an envisioned energy-neutral addition,” he said. “I struggle with a dedicated council chamber for four hours a week,” adding that he doesn't think they need that much dedicated space.

He added that he remembers when the library was first opened and visitors could actually go up into the tower, saying that he has been a large proponent of tearing the tower down as it is a wasted space, and that option two looks the most ideal to him.

Noting that several of the points raised would take time to answer, director of engineering and operations, Kirn Dhillon, summarised the issues that council had raised:

He informed the council that they could recommend staff come back with information to address those points.

As additional information was required to decide on the future of the building, the decision then became whether or not to keep the tower or have it demolished.

McLauchlan said she was pro-tower, noting what the architects had said about the tower, calling it a main feature of the building that also complements the nearby Sechelt Aquatic Centre.

“I can see that tower lit up at Christmas or any time, including the panels that are falling from the ceiling,” she said. “I can see that from my bedroom window. So it’s one of the few architectural features that we do have here. It does reflect our maritime situation.”

Deciding that more time was needed to reach a decision, and noting that time to speak to the community would be beneficial, council passed a motion to defer the decision for two weeks and have it brought back at the March 13 committee of the whole, and to have staff bring back a report with the information that director Dhillon outlined, with McLauchlan opposed.

“This is a very important time for this discussion, and there's a lot of emotion attached to this building in many ways and also we know that there's a lot to think about for the future,” said Councilor Donna Bell, who was chair of the meeting.

Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

Jordan Copp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Coast Reporter