Town council has opened the door for renovations to the Administration Building, but not all municipal representatives are on board with the project, which is expected to post a seven-figure price tag.
At their Aug. 17 meeting, town council voted 5-2 to confirm that it wishes to proceed with a major renovation of the Town of Taber Administration Building if it receives a satisfactory renovation plan. Coun. Jack Brewin and Mayor Henk De Vlieger opposed the motion.
“The bottom line is it will probably be in the million dollar range,” said Coun. Randy Sparks, one of two council representatives on an Administration Building renovation committee, prior to the vote. “We ask a lot of the architects, we have a lot of questions for them, and ask them a lot of things to do. They can’t do it forever for nothing. As a committee and as a council, if council is serious about doing some renovations here, here’s the plans, we’ve asked for prices and things like this. But as I said before, there’s time and commitment on their (architects) part, and there needs to be some commitment from council regarding some funding.”
Opened on June 1, 1966, the building’s south portion, comprising approximately 8,000 square feet, was originally occupied by town administration as well as Alberta Hail and Crop Insurance. With the opening of the Provincial Building in 1990, Alberta Hail and Crop Insurance moved out of the west half of the Administration Building and the town’s operations took over that previously occupied space.
The Town of Taber’s administrative offices occupy half of the current building that is jointly owned with the Municipal District Of Taber (constructed on two properties). The town’s portion of the building has been largely unchanged since it was constructed, except for an amalgamation of office spaces as uses changed over time. According to administration, this has resulted in an awkwardly situated council chamber with poor public access, unbalanced heating and cooling characteristics, wasted space in some areas while others are crowded, limited meeting rooms, and some low hazard environmental issues related to asbestos.
“This project has been delayed for a number of years. There is funding set aside for this project, so it’s not that new funding is going to have to be sought to do the Administration Building here. So that money is there, we just have to say yes we’re going ahead with this. If we want this to happen, we need to you-know-what or get off the pot,” said Sparks.
A major renovation has been planned for years for the building, including annual budget allocations, but the project has ultimately been postponed by town council due to public controversy surrounding total cost figures and the perception of more pressing infrastructure issues throughout the community.
“I agree this building is antiquated and it certainly needs an update,” said Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux. “I think it’s showing its age tremendously.”
In 2014, council established a committee (chaired by Coun.(s) Randy Sparks and Joe Strojwas) to study the building and prepare a renovation plan, and funds were allocated to hire an architect to assist with the project, which was budgeted to start renovations in 2015.
“When you take a look at the usable space in this building, there’s lots of space that is unused and sitting open,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “And the town staff do deserve a more than adequate working space. On a long-term basis, there is enough room in this building to proceed ahead with this here. Doing it in phases strategically — I know the residents in town will take a look at us shutting down and spending a million dollars, and this will probably draw a lot of flak — but they do need an updated work premesis. We need to figure out how we can do this, justify it, proceed ahead, do it in stages with the least disruption to residents and employees. After working on this committee for some time, I feel that council needs to get behind this and make a decision.”
Due to staffing changes in administration, finalization of the committee’s renovation plan was “put on the back burner”, which led to the project being abandoned by the architectural firm until there is a firm monetary commitment by the town to move forward. In its Request for Decision, administration suggested the “project has lost traction due to uncertain council support”.
“Personally, this is not my first priority,” said Mayor Henk De Vlieger. “We have a lot on the books, a lot of items that have to be replaced, like water, sewer, our lagoons, on and on, and it’s not necessary that we have to use this money for this project, it can be used also for other projects that qualify. Even though the building is not new anymore, I still think it’s functional. Sure the employees deserve a good working atmosphere, but personally I think it should wait a few years and money should be spent on more urgent items that are coming up that are going to cost us a lot of money, which has to come from somewhere.”
Council has spent roughly $20,000 on the most recent architectural effort, while the planned renovation is estimated to cost approximately $1 million.
“With economic times the way they are right now, it’s not the time to be spending money on this,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “I can appreciate we want to do this for our staff and for the people that come and visit us in Taber, but I’m uncomfortable spending this much money on a building we can make work for now.”
The low tender for the original renovation project, which was rejected by previous town council in a 5-1 vote in January 2012, rang in at just under $1.76 million. At the time, roughly $90,000 — for the bid, design, tendering and architectural drawings — was eaten by taxpayers following previous council’s decision to not initiate the renovation project.
The town’s portion of the Administration Building has not seen major renovations or modernization since it was opened almost five decades ago in 1966.
“Years ago we came up with a smarter plan, a better way for administration to work,” said Coun. Rick Popadynetz. “I believe administration is the key to this community, and they do need an upgrade on this building to make them more efficient.”