City council backtracked on a recent decision to spend $2.1 million to renovate the Hemingway Centre for the RCMP by deciding instead to investigate the cost of upgrading the downtown building for use by city or community groups.
A parallel decision directed city administration to pursue the purchase of a property that will meet the RCMP’s space needs for the next 10 years. Both moves will result in later reports to council for approval.
Two weeks ago council decided in a 4-3 vote to spend the $2.1 million but that decision was non-binding because it came at the standing committee on finance. By the time the item came up for rubber-stamping at public council this week, Mayor Nolan Crouse had reviewed the rough cost estimate and had devised the two alternate motions that passed.
“I think it’s irresponsible to push forward on $2 million without a scope and without a proper cost estimate,” he said in an interview.
He also did like that the issue had appeared on the radar this year after not getting a mention last year at capital budget time. Administration recently admitted that the space crunch had caught them off guard.
“This is coming out of the blue real fast,” Crouse said. “Let’s plan and do it right.”
Coun. Roger Lemieux agreed. He was the one who originally moved that council spend the $2.1 million. His rationale at the time was that the building would be an asset that city groups could use after the RCMP outgrow it in a few years.
“I’ve changed my mind on spending that kind of money,” he said Thursday. “I believe it can be done for a lot less money.”
Lemieux wasn’t present to vote on Crouse’s motions but they passed because Coun. Cathy Heron, who was also absent, called on her cellphone to participate in that one debate.
Heron has been a staunch opponent of putting city money into the Hemingway building and continued that stance on Monday.
“It’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money to be renovating a 30-year-old building with little or no value, according to market estimates,” she said. “It’s ridiculous, in my opinion.”
The change of direction left Coun. Cam MacKay frustrated.
He sees the building as the most cost-effective way to provide more short-term space to the RCMP, especially since the police occupied the building only 10 years ago.
“I’m not somebody that likes to throw stuff away,” he said.
The RCMP is operating with 25 per cent more personnel in the current detachment than it was designed to hold. The force is seeking a short-term space to set up a satellite office and wants to begin planning for a more permanent solution.
Council also approved Crouse’s motion to pursue the purchase of a property to provide space for the next 10 years. Crouse intentionally left the wording vague to allow for either land or an existing building, he said. The project would begin its life as unfunded, meaning council would have to seek new funding or cancel other capital spending to make it happen.