Brussels centre renovation 'no longer viable' in Morris-Turnberry's eyes
BY DENNY SCOTT
While their counterparts in Huron East will be seeking to answer questions about the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre renovations, Morris-Turnberry Council members made it clear they no longer believe in the project, which has recently become more expensive.
During a special meeting on Thursday, Oct. 7, Morris-Turnberry Council, after receiving a presentation regarding the multi-million dollar project, said, through Mayor Jamie Heffer, that they didn’t support it.
“In the opinion of this council, this project is no longer viable,” Heffer said, in presenting a list of questions and statements from his council. “We would have to raise taxes over eight per cent to meet the new funding goals.”
The statement and questions came after a lengthy presentation from Huron East Chief Administrative Officer Brad McRoberts, in which he explained that the project price tag, which was originally set to cost $4,788,000, had jumped to over $8 million due to delays and COVID-19 impacts on supply chains.That price, however, has since been reduced to $5.5 million by cutting certain aspects of the renovations, McRoberts said, including getting rid of storage, modifying electrical and heating system changes, reducing the width of the dressing-room corridor, using less expensive materials in the changes to the roof and getting rid of corner bleachers in the renovation.
McRoberts said Huron East and the committees behind the renovation met and agreed that not going ahead with the project wasn’t feasible as some of the renovations, including the replacement of the roof, were necessities. McRoberts credited the committees, saying they came up with ideas for reducing costs, like reducing dressing room sizes to shorten the overall size of the addition, to help keep the prices as low as possible.
McRoberts also said that, by bringing on Marshall and Murray Inc., a consultant firm focusing on more specific budgets, the estimated cost of the roof was reduced by $350,900.
After all those changes, Morris-Turnberry’s share increased from $159,600 to $469,900, McRoberts said, adding that while he understood it was a difficult decision, he felt the wisest path forward was to go ahead with the renovations.
He explained that Morris-Turnberry is responsible for operational and capital costs of the centre as laid out in an agreement between the two municipalities, and if the renovation doesn’t go ahead, the roof, which is original to the building, will need to be replaced in the near future. Morris-Turnberry’s costs on that project, according to McRoberts, will be more than half of what’s being asked of them now at $242,000.
“For an additional $228,000, you get a new and improved facility that meets the current standard and will provide 20 to 30 years of life for the community,” he said. “The building hasn’t seen much in terms of upgrades and renovations and is a fairly aged facility. It needs some investment.”
Heffer then provided his council’s remarks and questions of the project, saying that Morris-Turnberry was reluctant to approve its original commitment, but it made sense to take advantage of the federal and provincial grant money being sought. He said Morris-Turnberry’s support “strengthened” the application.
“Since then, we’re surprised and disappointed that such a significant increase was approved unilaterally by Huron East without discussion,” he said.
Heffer, again speaking on behalf of council, said the renovation may be irresponsible to pursue with attendance dropping for community centres, with some not even opening.
“We wonder if it’s not unwise to approve a facility with no clear evidence that it will be financially sustainable going forward,” he said.
He added that council had heard a number of concerns from ratepayers about the cost of the project and Morris-Turnberry’s share.
Heffer also criticized the volunteer committees behind the project, saying that, when the issue was first brought before council, requests for business plans for the centre, as well as back-up plans for fundraising were requested and no “clear or satisfactory” answers were provided.
He said his council wanted everyone to take a hard look at the project to see if it is viable, before saying, in the opinion of his council, it isn’t viable.
Heffer also asked if the workout/gym space in the community centre, which will be rented out to a local business, was “firmed up” and also questioned whether or not the new community fundraising goal of $1.4 million could be met.
“Spending this much on a facility that’s future is uncertain is irresponsible,” he said.
He then asked what would happen if Morris-Turnberry walked away from the project.
Heffer said he would leave those questions with Huron East staff and council and the committee members before allowing council to ask any questions that had arisen from the presentation.
Deputy-Mayor Sharen Zinn said she wanted time to look at the new information and come back with a consensus of council while Councillor Jim Nelemans once again questioned the fundraising committee’s ability to raise $1.4 million for the project, saying fundraisers behind an arena renovation in Mildmay, which cost $1.1 million, had trouble raising $300,000. He added that was before COVID-19, which will likely make fundraising more difficult.
Roxane Nicholson, the fundraising chair, said that the early fundraising goals and even the new $1.4 million goal were within reach, according to the fundraising consulting firm Campaign Coaches, who had estimated that $2 million could be raised from the community for the project.
McRoberts and Mayor Bernie MacLellan of Huron East also both spoke to the fundraising, with MacLellan saying that people had already confirmed they would donate.
“I’m always impressed by Brussels,” MacLellan said. “The community support is better there than many other places.”
MacLellan then addressed some of the concerns that Heffer had raised, boiling them down to one question: is the facility needed?
“You don’t have to have any arenas in Huron County,” he said, “but they are a part of the community. If you want a community that’s going to thrive and grow, getting rid of the amenities [is] no way to move things forward.”
He said not pursuing the project could be condemning the facility and, while the original jump to $8 million shocked him, he eventually realized the project needs to go forward.
He said the renovated space will be comparable to the relatively-new community centre in Clinton, which, in his experience, has been a desirable venue for local sports teams. He also said that just doing the repairs isn’t money well spent, as the facility will still be a 30- to 40-year old building that has been fixed, as opposed to “hopefully one of the crown jewels” of the county.
Heffer reiterated the concerns that he said council had heard from ratepayers, saying “they give us direction”.
“We have to take that into account and be responsible… when we get those concerns from them,” he said.
Morris-Turnberry Council took no action as a result of the discussion.