After expressing shock a week ago at the escalated cost after the bids for constructing Meaford's new library were received, council gave unanimous approval to the award of tender at their July 22 meeting.
Of the five bids received for the library construction project, the three lowest bids were within $100,000 of each other, with Van Horne Construction submitting the lowest bid of $4,372,857.18, pushing the total cost of the project to $7.1 million, $1.6 million more than the $5.5 million that council had previously approved for the new library.
Last week, Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman told council that while the overall cost of the project now exceeds the approved budget by more than $1.6 million, the net effect on the taxpayer will be an additional $61,000 in long-term debt.
“This is based on the difference between the October 2017 assumptions when direction was given by Council to proceed with the purchase of 11 Sykes Street, with an understanding that the project would incur $3 million in long term debt,” Chapman told council in his report. “Based on the identified funding sources, $3,064,486 in long term debt will incur annual debt repayments of $184,140 assuming a 25-year loan at 3.49%. This is generally in line with prior expectations as the annual budget process since 2016 has gradually increased library funding to a stable point of $175,000 in the 2019 capital plan.”
Though several councillors had expressed displeasure at the increased costs at their July 15 special meeting, after a week of studying the project costs and considering input from residents, all members of council ultimately supported the award of tender, allowing construction of the new library to begin.
“This is one of the hardest decisions I've made,” Councillor Steve Bartley told his fellow council members. “I've received hundreds of emails, a few less than when we shut Sydenham library services down, but just about the same. And I find that though I do respect everybody's opinion, and I do appreciate the emails, I find it very hard for somebody to make a decision on an 11 page report, where we have sat through five years of deliberations around this table on the same subject. They say 'you should check out other buildings', we've done that, we've checked out ten other buildings, we've had prices on them. As a business person looking for five years at this thing, this is the best we can come up with.”
As for those who suggest that Meaford does not need to provide a library but only library services, according the the province's Municipal Act, and have urged council to establish agreements with neighbouring municipalities instead, Bartley does not agree.
“Send 4,000 people to Owen Sound? I will not answer those emails,” Bartley told council.
Councillor Tony Bell, who on July 15 was adamant that he could not support the increased cost, telling council that he campaigned on holding the cost of the new library to $5.5 million, had a change of heart by the time he entered the council chamber on July 22.
“A week ago I was the lone voice that basically didn't want us to be here this afternoon,” Bell told council. Bell explained that while he grappled with the overall cost, he is confident that the municipality will assume no more than $3 million in long-term debt for the project, which is what council had requested previously. “If we delay the build, I believe that fundraising in the Municipality of Meaford will be severely hurt for a very long time.” Fundraising efforts have thus far raised more than half a million dollars toward the goal of raising $750,000.
Bell told council that he would now support the award of tender, and when it came time to vote, council voted unanimously 7-0 to award the tender for construction of the new library.
Chapman described the numbers provided as the “worst case scenario”, and the project could come in under the $7.1 million, particularly given the $430,000 contingency built into the construction contract. He told council that he does not anticipate the project exceeding $7.1 million. Chapman also said that an announcement has been made informing that new upper level grant opportunities are on the horizon, and he said that Meaford would be applying for any grant for which it is eligible.
Photo: Peter Bantock of the Friends of the Meaford Library addresses council prior to their vote to approve the award of tender for the library construction project.