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Kitchener plans to spend $8.8 million on city hall repairs

In January, city council added $8.8 million to its capital budget forecast to address critical infrastructure repairs to surface concrete and the underground parking garage, as well as the existing rink/fountain and stage in Carl Zehr Square.

Construction isn’t expected to get underway until 2020 but represents a substantial four-year undertaking, according to city staff.

“It’s virtually impossible, just given the weather conditions, to do it all in one year,” said outgoing director of facilities management Christine Fletcher during a budget session earlier this year.

“Twenty-nineteen will be spent hiring a consultant to lead us through the development of construction drawings and tender packages,” she said.

The project will go to bid later this year with rehabilitation of the Carl Zehr Square/College Street elevation expected to get underway next spring. The majority of work will take place in 2020 and 2021, with additional work to be completed in 2022.

In her “professional opinion,” Fletcher warned the city’s newly elected council not to delay critical infrastructure replacements any longer.

The previous council had received reports from staff warning of the work needed to repair water damage in its parking garage, as well as damage to surface concrete in the civic square that has created accessibility and liability issues. A substantial public engagement process was initiated in 2015 that later resulted in a City Hall Outdoor Spaces master plan and functional design report, as local politicians questioned how they’d pay for the unfunded work.

To the surprise of some veteran councillors during budget discussion in January, staff came up with a cost plan to draw from the city’s reserve funds and capital pool, also using some of the municipality’s federal gas tax allotment and parking enterprise revenue to help pay for the much-needed work between now and 2022.

According to the breakdown, more than $7 million is considered “replacement” with only the remaining $1.8-million balance of the project deemed “redesign.”

Coun. Sarah Marsh said it’s never fun to repair a parking garage but acknowledged the buckets that are catching drips of water from the cracking membrane.

“The roof is already compromised. It’s past time for us to do something about that,” she said. “I think that’s something we can’t mess around with.”

Budget chair Coun. Scott Davey didn’t recall a final design coming back to council for approval; however, Kitchener’s general manager of infrastructure services, Denise McGoldrick, said council had directed staff to proceed with design work and costing of implementation by breaking out essential items from those deemed enhancements.

 

A once considered redesign of the Duke Street entrance has been reduced to a “like-for-like” replacement along with the work needed to get at the underground parking membrane, according to project manager Lynda Stewart.

Heated outdoor paving stones once contemplated won’t be included in the RFP, she said.

A flush redesign of Carl Zehr Square also wasn’t possible due to substantial grade variations; however, the fountain/rink redesign is probably the most significant aspect of the project that people will notice once it’s complete, Stewart believes.

“I think the biggest difference is that there will not be the weir right at the front that separates the King Street sidewalk from the fountain,” she said. “That’s going to be a pretty significant change.”

Other enhancement like improved seating and water features can be sorted out during final design, Stewart said, adding that the goal is to make the space more interactive than what’s there currently.

A budget line for bike racks, furniture, umbrellas and waste receptacles has been increased to $344,000 — about $230,000 more than the estimate for replacement. Upgrades will also include LED lighting and new electrical/mechanical systems.

A stage toward the College Street side of the square will also be replaced with an accessible ramp and an overall dimension of 23 by 28 feet, Stewart said.

Because larger events like TD Kitchener Blues Fest bring in their own temporary stages and spill out onto King Street anyway, Stewart said maintaining a permanent platform in the square is intended to facilitate smaller scale community gatherings in the future.

“This city hall is the heart of our community,” said Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “It literally has tens of thousands of people who are here every year in terms of the events and business activities that go on here and, quite frankly, it’s in a condition that has waited beyond an acceptable time, in my point of view.

“Waiting will only result in costs going up significantly,” he said.

Kitchener City Hall celebrated its 25th anniversary last September. Built for $66 million (the equivalent of about $103 million today), it has garnered several prestigious design awards, including a Governor General's gold medal for architecture.

Bill Jackson

by Bill Jackson

Bill Jackson is Reporter/Photographer with the Kitchener Post. He can be reached atbjackson@kitchenerpost.ca . Follow him on Twitterand the Post on Facebook

Email: bjackson@kitchenerpost.ca Facebook Twitter
Article Last Updated 25.06.2019

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