Budget increased for art gallery upgrade

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The Art Gallery of St. Albert is receiving $300,000 extra funding from the city to cover potential cost overruns for its barrier-free upgrades.

The project is already underway and aims to make the building accessible to people who have disabilities. That means installing a ramp at the entrance, an internal lift, and upgraded and relocated washrooms, among other things. Council’s decision brings the project budget up to just over $2 million.

The project was originally approved in December 2016 at a cost of $1,555,116, with 70 per cent coming from the city and 30 per cent from the Arts and Heritage Foundation.

Thanks to funding commitments from both the provincial and federal governments, the Arts and Heritage Foundation soared past its goal of fundraising $467,000 for the project, instead raising a total of $623,201.

However, despite shaving off between $85,000 and $110,000 from the project’s expenses by re-designing the entryway, choosing cheaper exterior cladding and finishing materials, reducing the gallery’s ceiling height and cutting an entrance canopy, the current project budget does not provide any leeway for cost overruns.

“Right now, we don’t feel that we have sufficient funds to accommodate the anticipated contingency that we might need to complete the project,” cultural services director Kelly Jerrott told city council on Feb. 20.

She added the construction manager for the project would continue to look at ways to bring costs down.

Jerrott said several issues have bumped up the project’s cost, including the discovery of asbestos in the building, structural issues relating to the second floor and lift, and building code requirements. Architect and design fees also cost $91,000 more than originally budgeted, and the gallery’s temporary relocation while the building is being remodelled is costing more than anticipated.

She said the extra $300,000 from the city would only be used as a contingency.

“If we do not need to utilize that money, we would not be spending it, and then we would return any of the funds that were not used,” she said.

The request received unanimous support from council members.

Mayor Cathy Heron said the request for additional funding was unusual as projects often come in under budget rather than over, and voiced her support for providing the funding, saying the project will be “fantastic” for St. Albert’s downtown.

Her words echoed comments by Coun. Natalie Joly and Coun. Jacquie Hansen, who both spoke of the need to get the project done.

Hansen said she believes the gallery will be a “flagship building” for St. Albert’s downtown once work is completed.

“It’s very exciting that it’s barrier-free, so the sooner we can get this done … the better,” she said.

Coun. Ken MacKay praised the efforts of the Arts and Heritage Foundation to fundraise for the project.

“We need to recognize they are upholding their end of trying to identify additional funds for that as well,” he said.

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April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette