City councillors voted on Monday to delay the construction of a new Brock Mission men’s shelter in Peterborough, putting the project on hold until city staff could find a way to cut costs on the project.
It was a move many councillors said they were reluctant to make.
“If we had any project that came in at 45 per cent over costs, I think we’d be asking staff to go back and find savings to bring it in under budget,” Town Ward Coun. Dean Pappas said, describing the shelter as an essential city service.
Plans to build a new Brock Mission were initially pegged at about $7.5 million.
But at a recent general committee meeting, councillors learned that costs had gone up by about $3 million, a number many balked at.
At that meeting, they voted 10-1 to put the project on hold, a decision they rubberstamped at Monday’s meeting.
The city does have the option of digging into its reserve funds to cover the cost of the increase. That would mean construction could begin within a few weeks.
But Northcrest Ward Coun. Andrew Beamer was reluctant to open that piggy bank, pointing out that the municipality doesn’t know what’s going to happen under the new provincial government.
Citing provincial downloading in 2013, Beamer said the city dipped into its reserves when the province slashed the discretionary benefits fund. He said council needed to be prudent, in case it needed that money somewhere down the road.
But councillors Diane Therrien (Town Ward) and Keith Riel (Ashburnham Ward) disagreed.
Therrien, who voted in favour of the delay at the general committee meeting, said she was switching her vote after talking to people in the community and taking a harder look at the situation.
Riel argued that the city didn’t have time to delay a new shelter, referring to the ongoing housing crisis in Peterborough.
“Are we going to buy tents and sleeping bags for these people?” Riel said. “Is that how we’re going to house them?”
“We have to have shovels in the ground.”
“This is a rainy day fund,” Riel said of the reserves fund. “This is a rainy day.”
In an attempt to clarify what she described as misinformation, Otonabee Ward Coun. Lesley Parnell said initial cost numbers were based on 2014 prices.
“And I dare say nothing that was estimated in 2014 is the same price in 2018,” she said. Parnell also noted that additional funds were needed to bring the temporary shelter at St. Paul’s up to current safety standards.
Parnell has been part of a $1-million fundraising campaign for the shelter. So far, only $46,000 has been raised.
Ashburnham Ward Coun. Gary Baldwin asked city CAO Saundra Clancy what would happen if that money couldn’t be raised. Clancy said it would have to be found somewhere else.
The former Brock Mission was torn down in late 2017.
St. Paul’s Church on Murray Street has been the site of a temporary shelter, but the church was sold to a developer earlier this year, throwing the future of the shelter in doubt. But on Monday, council heard that the developer had granted the shelter a six-month extension, allowing people to stay there until February 2019.
Coun. Dan McWilliams of Otonabee Ward, openly wondered if the project was salvageable.
“This is not going in the right for us,” he said.
But Clancy was confident that the city could salvage the project if staff had time to sit down with the architect and go back to the drawing board.
In a 10-2 vote, the plan was deferred, and no new construction deadline has been set.