Billings votes to go ahead with planned work on Old Mill township office space

The Old Mill in Kagawong

Proposal made to make Old Mill a three-season facility

KAGAWONG – Billings Township council has voted to go ahead with and accept a bid on the renovations and mould abatement of the Old Mill Heritage Centre municipal office, citing the need to have the work carried out to make the building safe and clean for both office staff and visitors and for any subsequent use by others in the future. This comes as council was asked to consider deferring the decision and consider a proposal to make the Old Mill a three-season building.

As was reported in the December 27, 2019 edition of the Recorder, with both tenders submitted for mould abatement and renovations to be made to the Old Mill Heritage Centre Billings Municipal Office having been higher than what had been anticipated, Billings Township council had deferred a decision on which company to choose for two weeks while its engineers discussed the costs involved with both bidders.

“This council is committed to spending precious municipal funds responsibly,” stated Billings Mayor Ian Anderson at a council meeting Monday attended by about 35 residents. “Council and staff take our responsibility to communicate effectively very seriously. We are not perfect and communication can always be improved. We sincerely believe that we have made improvements thus far. Council and staff can and do attempt to answer questions and engage in appropriate discussion, but this can only occur if citizens also engage. The current status of the municipal office in the Old Mill is unacceptable, and in the interest of health and safety, and effective ongoing municipal administration, council believes that we need to act as planned.”

Sandy Cook, who at the meeting outlined a new proposal for the Old Mill to be turned into a three-season facility said, “we’re not asking for more money for a project. We are asking for a different project to be considered. Yes, something needs to be done to address problems with the Old Mill, but that doesn’t have to mean trying to put it back the way it was.”

Mayor Anderson pointed out the municipal office is currently housed in the downstairs area of the Park Centre. “It’s a building that is busy; there is a lot of use of it. Everyone knows the usage this building receives. The space downstairs is not ideal for the office staff. One of the concerns people are having is with energy efficiency of the Old Mill office space, and we intend to rectify that. And in due course we will be looking at a new municipal office, but not in the short term. And, other commitments we have had to make for projects has maxed out what we have to commit in resources.” He pointed out the township has no options regarding the remedial work on the municipal office, to make the space a safe/healthy environment for anyone who works or visits the space in the future.

Ms. Cook made a presentation to council noting that the presentation is meant to uphold the principles and statements included in the township asset management plan bylaw. “Council has good intentions and is planning to make some progress towards remediating problems at the Old Mill Heritage Centre municipal office. However, we are presenting an alternative to the proposed renovations.”

“We are bringing forward a new proposal for the following three reasons: the asset management committee minutes from last August state that the office is too small for the current staff, yet the current proposal of building a cube inside the municipal office is going to further decrease the square footage,” said Ms. Cook, noting the Old Mill is the least energy efficient and most propane-dependent building in municipal holdings.

“The Old Mill Heritage Centre has the potential to become an asset that fulfills social, economic and environmental goals as stated in the Asset Management Policy cited above,” said Ms. Cook. “We propose that the Old Mill Heritage Centre be remediated and renovated into a three-season building containing an enlarged museum space on the ground floor and Edwards’ Studios on top.” The proposed renovations would require design and engineering input to remove it from the list of “critical” buildings as referenced in the Township of Billings Facility Condition Assessment Summary prepared by Tulloch Engineering in February 2018. 

Ms. Cook said the new proposal would provide social, economic and environmental benefit, noting the centre is a successful and vital component of Billings’ cultural scene. The annual events draw hundreds of people and the organization holds ambitious exhibits, but the space is an obstacle to bringing in these exhibits and badly needs updating to accommodate the rigorous requirements of hosting precious collections. The Old Mill, “brings together our social fabric; young and old, residents and visitors, in a mutual appreciation of local history and heritage. A beautiful museum space, both interior and exterior, would be a point of pride for the whole community—a jewel on the waterfront—that preserves an iconic heritage building.”

Ms. Cook went on to explain there would be economic benefits as well. She explained if the Old Mill is solely an arts and museum space, the township is then eligible to receive up to 50 percent of funding from the federal Canadian Cultural Spaces Fund (CCSF) for work on the building for interior or exterior work as well as planning, architecture and engineering fees. “We may even quality for the ‘rural and remote area’ increased funding of 75 percent. In addition, the township would be eligible for more federal funding through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) at 75 percent.”

With a cost of $75,000 for the engineered floor plan, an estimate of $200,000 for containing contaminated soil and received bids for constructing the inner cube of $180-$190,000, the current plan for the Old Mill renovations will incur total expenses over $400,000, said Ms. Cook, noting it would not address the office space being too small.

“In contrast, by applying for federal funding for a three-season building used as cultural space, $400,000 of taxpayer money can buy the township $800,000 to $1.2 million worth of work. This seems like a way more efficient and effective way to spend a lot of money,” said Ms. Cook. 

“There would also be environmental benefits,” said Ms. Cook. “As a member in FCM’s Partners in Climate Protection Program, Billings is committed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. A significant savings in annual fuel costs and greenhouse gas production is accomplished with a three season, May to October museum and art studio building that may need propane for heating.”

“The firehall, gym and library are also on the critical list in Billings facility assessment report. The critical designation is for buildings requiring extensive work for long-term sustainability, where the cost of replacing may be less than fixing. Rather than short-term fixes on each of these buildings. perhaps setting aside seed money and augmenting this with other streams of funding available for a multi-use, fully accessible building that could include these services and the municipal office, would be well worth the wait.”

“In conclusion, the Old Mill is an iconic heritage building and the centre of present and future cultural space. The township and community members can make gains socially, economically and environmentally by pressing the pause button. Pausing the tender process and stepping back to look anew at our beloved asset that is in critical condition, can help us move forward with a more cost-effective, innovative solution that makes real headway on our environmental and infrastructure goals,” said Ms. Cook.

“There is no question you and others are dedicated and have spent a lot of time researching this entire subject,” said Mayor Anderson. 

“In the next few minutes I will try to explain the current situation and why we are doing what we are,” said Mayor Anderson. “I also like to thank you for your presentation. Council’s decisions are based on a broad range of factors, including legislation, public and staff safety, affordability and advice from both the public and staff and a strategic plan, to name a few.” 

“Our primary focus is the Old Mill office space repairs in the interest of health and safety and to also to share some of the other projects and costs we are currently looking at,” said Mayor Anderson. “Tonight we will focus initially on why we have chosen to repair a portion of the Old Mill building to make it a safe and comfortable work environment which will also be much more energy efficient than the old office. At the same time, I will take this opportunity to share some of the other projects and costs your municipality is committed to in the immediate future.”

“The Old Mill is clearly an important part of our heritage,” said Mayor Anderson, giving some of its past history. The township has occupied a portion of the building for the township office since about 1999, he said, noting the building has not been formally designated as a heritage building,under the Ontario Heritage Act.

He pointed out municipal staff began to seriously question air quality in the space in 2018 and council initiated an investigation of air quality in the summer of that year. Broad spectrum air quality testing was conducted by Cassen Testing Labs in early September and Tulloch Engineering was also engaged in September to conduct further testing, provide advice and propose potential remediation options short- and long-term. Further testing revealed mold spores and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). A Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) system was proposed as a means of improving the air quality to acceptable levels, but not as a means of addressing the root cause(s) of the problem. This system was installed in the winter of 2019.

The office was reoccupied in the spring of 2019, but by early fall it was determined that the air quality issues remained. Staff relocated to the Park Centre lower hall in mid-October, and council determined that source remediation work was needed to occur before the space could be reoccupied as a municipal office.

Tulloch defined the scope of the work that was needed and with approval by council, they created a tender for the final abatement protocol. Two bids for completing the work were received by the township, and these were considered on December 20. 

At this point in time the building has not been designated as a heritage building, said Mayor Anderson. The work includes demolition/removals of flooring in the east end of the office space (CAO office and back entry/storage area) floor covering, sub-floor and floor joists; the removal of carpeting in the main office; removal of non-load bearing interior walls; installation of a steel-reinforced sealed concrete floor in the east end; smoothing and sealing of existing concrete floor in the main office; installation of commercial floor tiles in entire space; re-installation of washroom; re-installation of electrical, telephone and data lines as appropriate, installation of insulation (R value:24) and drywall; and painting of all wall surfaces, trim, etc.

“All the work is being carried out to address health and safety concerns and is required regardless of who uses this space, now and in the future,” said Mayor Anderson. It also an opportunity to significantly improve the energy efficiency of the municipal office portion of the building. 

To date the costs of the project are at $265,000 including the bids for the proposed work, the meeting was told.

In terms of municipal asset management Mayor Anderson noted the township has many infrastructure assets, roads, buildings, water, recreation, etc. “There is a staggering national infrastructure deficit at all levels of government,” said Mayor Anderson. “The challenge of effective asset management is greater for small municipalities because of limited revenue generation options. The township does have an asset management policy and is engaged in planning. Asset management is focused on long-term and is operation-wide; sometimes, conditions demand immediate action.” 

Mayor Anderson outlined the township’s existing committed/planned projects over the next couple of years: Kagawong Waterfront Development 2020, known estimated cost of $2,045,000 and the municipal portion being $227,000; Main Street Hill engineering and partial reconstruction over the next three years at an estimated $3,750,000 of which the township share would be $250,000; washrooms/shoreline erosion control and roadwork estimated at $1,159,320 with the municipal cost being $260,000; Old Mill road waterline repair, unknown costs at this time; municipal office and soil contamination remediation, of which $206,000 would be paid by the township; Park Centre generator, a cost of $30,000 to be borne by the township; the total firehall renovation and mould remediation costs are unknown at this point; Public Works vehicles pick-up truck and snowplow, $350,000 to be borne by the township; a used tanker for the fire department at an unknown cost; and two bridge replacements to be carried out as soon as possible, for the Old Mill Road and Mud Creek Road, at cost of $1,670,000 with the municipal costs unknown.

“There is a level of uncertainty associated with all undertakings, especially with respect to funding criteria, the continuation of funding programs, changes in senior levels of government, etc.,” said Mayor Anderson. “Staff and council work diligently to stay abreast of funding opportunities, and reduce uncertainty and risk in planning, implementation, but some level of both is inherent in the world of municipal operations.”

“As you go down our list there are millions of dollars that are committed, federal/provincial and staggering amount of expenditures for the municipality. Our budgeting process has to be cognitive of these commitments,” said Mayor Anderson. “There are limits to senior government largesse, and the history of funding received by any given municipality does impact senior government decisions at any given point in time. There are costs associated with applying for and especially administering any given project, and 100 percent externally funded programs are very rare. And the cold, hard fact is that each one percent increase in the property tax rate generates $18,000. So, for say a $180,000 project requires a 10 percent tax increase.” 

Council then looked at considering the two bids for the work to be done on the municipal office, from First General Services (Rob Scott) of Little Current $179,850 and Rob Seifried Construction (Kagawong) of $189,999.

“I guess in comparing both tenders they are very similar,” said Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack. “There is not a lot of difference. This (office space) has to be fixed. I like to support local business, and support accepting the bid from Rob Seifried Construction.” 

Council passed a motion, unanimously, to hire Rob Seifried Construction for work to be undertaken at the Old Mill Heritage Centre township office at tender of $189,999.