By Trevor Busch
Renovation of council chambers inside the Administration Building is proceeding full speed ahead this summer after town council approved a $200,000 budget for the project in late June.
Coun. Mark Garner had put forward the idea on May 28, and it was quickly endorsed by the rest of council and administration. Garner’s original motion had only called for modest cosmetic changes to the space — new carpeting, new paint on existing walls, and altering the seating arrangement — with the exception of a reconfiguration of the existing west wall.
Following in camera discussion at council’s June 25 regular meeting, council voted unanimously to direct administration to undertake renovations to the council chambers as presented, with a $200,000 upset limit, and utilize funds from the 2018 capital budget to complete the work.
“That’s a max, not to exceed that, hopefully it won’t be that high,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “That was basically due to some overage amounts left over through the tender process on the paving repairs. So we had more money budgeted for that, but it came in under budget. So the $200,000 would be from that particular process.”
During the in camera portion of a public meeting, members of the general public, including the media, are barred from witnessing or participating in the proceedings, although all subsequent resolutions must be made in open session.
Under guidelines laid down by Alberta Municipal Affairs, as an elected body, municipal councils should avoid conducting business in camera, including discussion of difficult topics such as budget deliberations, capital expenditures, tax recoveries, salary ranges or hiring of additional municipal staff, bylaw amendments, subdivision proposals, and “any contentious issues such as sensitive local issues.”
Prokop suggested “legalities” surrounding the project’s budget allocation justified the discussion of the issue by council during closed session.
“I guess some of the legalities that came out of that originally. I think there was some unforeseen things attached to that which came out. It was sort of on the radar way back — tossed around — but it technically wasn’t budgeted for. So that’s kind of what came out of that in the end there. It was a little bit of a surplus that we weren’t expecting.”
In the minutes of the June 25 meeting, administration cited Section 24(1) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP), “to prevent the disclosure of advice from officials,” as the rationale for the in camera discussion.
Proposed renovations for the Administration Building have been a controversial subject for town taxpayers in the past. In 2012, a full-scale renovation of the town’s half of the Administration Building had been contemplated, approved and budgeted by town council — at the time, the project had even been tendered — but it was shot down at the eleventh hour over excessive cost considerations and push back from the general public.
This resulted in roughly $90,000 in preliminary costs that was forced to be swallowed by taxpayers with little to nothing to show for it.
Prokop provided a rough outline of the scope of work that is currently underway, while arguing the aging chambers were long overdue for a refresh.
“It’s some upgrades. It’s been roughly 30 years since anything major has been done there — there’s been some Band-Aid type things done here over the years, but even that’s been roughly 20 years. It’s a reorganization of what council chambers will look like, it’s going to be a different kind of setup, and I believe it’s adding some more room. The way they changed things around, they felt it was also a little on the small side. So we’re trying to add a little more space, just basically by knocking out a wall — which I think is probably going to achieve that — and just some structural changes, and some reorganizing of the space available, which ideally will be more effective and efficient all the way around.”
Due to the renovations, town council held their July 18 special meeting inside the Dreddy Room of the Taber Police Station. Council’s Aug. 20 regular meeting is also currently scheduled for that location at 3:30 p.m.
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.
Various renovations for the aging building have been contemplated or rejected by town council over the past two decades.