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Historic courthouse improvements approved

Posted on September 17, 2014 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

Restoration work on the main entry area of the historic Taber Courthouse has been approved and a tender awarded by town council.

At their Sept. 8 meeting, council voted unanimously to award the historic Taber Courthouse main entrance rehabilitation project tender to Venture Holdings, in an amount not to exceed $76,780, with funds to be allocated from the town’s capital reserves. Mayor Henk De Vlieger declared a conflict and abstained from the discussion and vote.

“At the end of phase one of the restoration project, it’s in a clean and clear position for phase two next year, or whatever council focuses on with the continuing restoration of this building,” said Rob Cressman, director of community services.

The Town of Taber is the registered owner of the historic Taber Courthouse, which was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in January 2013.

Constructed in 1918, the Taber Courthouse became the model for Alberta courthouses built prior to WWII. After being declared a judicial sub-district in 1917, the Town of Taber donated land for the construction of the courthouse building that would also house the local detachment of the newly-formed Alberta Provincial Police. The Taber Courthouse was also a site for meetings of local community organizations and Taber town council. Following the dissolution of the judicial sub-district, the courthouse continued to be used for a variety of provincial government activities and in 1953 became the official Town Hall.

Coun. Jack Brewin questioned if the project should not be postponed until 2015 considering the total price tag attached to the tender.

“Is this justifiable this year, or should we put this off another year?”

“We have spent some money with Wade’s House Moving and some other contracts.”

Director of corporate services Dale Culler indicated the funds allocated for the project do not represent an undue fiscal hardship for the municipality considering they had already been set aside in previous years.

“This is really separate, because the money was set aside. Council a number of years ago agreed to fund about $200,000 under certain conditions for work on that complex. There was an application made for this project under the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grant, that was approved for $200,000, so that money is set aside already, and separate. The only dollars that have not been set aside would be the $10,000 from reserves, which actually was set aside in the budget as well. So really the two don’t really have bearing on each other.”

Rehabilitation of the front entrance and stairs will be the first phase of an exterior rehabilitation program, which will consist of demolishing the front stairs and reconstructing them in new concrete with kneewalls rebuilt from salvaged brick, or suitable matching replacement brick; preservation of the portico, including cleaning and repainting of the rough-cast stucco and repointing and cleaning of the brick masonry; the badly deteriorated wood portico arch and roof will be disassembled, documented, and rebuilt using appropriate new materials; the wood frame arched portico window and sidelights will be repaired and repainted; and the existing non-historic door will be replaced with an appropriate new wood door and hardware.

The Town of Taber has retained RKH Architecture to assist with the building restoration, which is required to comply with Alberta Heritage requirements, preserving historically significant features from the original building construction. The town an RKH Architecture have consulted Alberta Heritage to ensure the restoration and upgrades are compliant.

According to Alberta Culture, the heritage value of the Taber Courthouse lies in its association with the administration of justice in early Alberta, and as an architectural prototype for Alberta courthouses designed prior to WWII. Character-defining elements include the symmetrical single-storey rectangular plan, stucco and brick exterior, classically inspired projecting entrance, large round-arched multi-paned tripartite transom and sidelights, and entrance arch supported on brackets.

A mandatory pre-bid meeting was held at the site on Aug. 26, with six general contractors in attendance. The tender closed on Sept. 4.

Identifying an almost $90,000 difference between Venture Holding’s tender bid and that made by Cobra Corporate Management, Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux asked if there was any explanation for the wide difference in bids received.

“That would certainly account for some of the difference, but we don’t believe that it accounts for all of the difference,” said Cressman. “The company from Calgary that bid on the project would be experienced, capable, able to do the work for sure. But the way they’ve priced it, they’re considering other factors, escalation amounts in their bid to reflect requiring additional resources that they haven’t anticipated for this year, for example based on current workloads, that sort of thing. The other contractor that bid on the project bid an amount that’s substantially lower than the other — there are a number of motivations that may have resulted in that as well.”

Improvements to the historic Taber Courthouse align with inclusions in the town’s Strategic Plan aimed at fostering cultural opportunities in Taber through improved venues, support of special events, and recognition of cultural diversity.

“Sometimes contractors bid specifically high because they really don’t need the work, or want the work, and they increase their profit margins accordingly,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “You’ve got to take that into context as well, especially coming out of Calgary. They’ve got lots of historic buildings, and lots of work up in Calgary — they don’t need to come down here and do this.”

The town’s 2014 capital budget included $150,000 for the historic Taber Courthouse, with the expenditure funded from capital reserves ($10,000), provincial conditional grant funding ($70,000), and provincial MSI funding ($70,000). Council had previously authorized RKH Architecture to assist the town with the project, with fees expected to be no greater than $8,580.

Alberta currently has more than 350 provincial historic resources. Along with helping to provide economic, social and cultural benefits, designation of Provincial Historic Resources helps to ensure that local landmarks will continue to help connect Albertans with their rich heritage.

The project is expected to be completed by Nov. 26.

Tender Bids
Venture Holdings: $76,870
Cobra Corporate Management Inc.: $154,530

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